China’s July hypersonic weapon test included a technological advancement that allowed it to launch missiles when approaching the target at a speed of at least 5 times the speed of sound—no country had previously demonstrated this capability.
According to people familiar with the matter, the Pentagon scientists were caught off guard by this development, which allowed the hypersonic glide vehicle, a mobile spacecraft that can carry a nuclear warhead, to launch a single missile over the South China Sea.
People familiar with the matter said that experts at Darpa, the Pentagon’s advanced research organization, are still unsure how China can overcome physical restrictions by launching countermeasures from vehicles traveling at hypersonic speeds.
Military experts have been studying data related to testing to understand how China has mastered this technology. They are still discussing the purpose of the projectile, which was launched by a hypersonic vehicle with no obvious target on its own, and then fell into the water.
Some Pentagon experts believe that the projectile is an air-to-air missile. Others think this is a countermeasure to destroy the missile defense system so that they cannot shoot down hypersonic weapons in wartime.
Russia and the United States have also been pursuing hypersonic weapons for many years, but experts say that the launch of countermeasures is the latest evidence that China’s efforts are more advanced than the Kremlin or the Pentagon.
The White House declined to comment on the countermeasures, but said it was still concerned about the July 27 test, which was first reported by the Financial Times last month.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council said: “This development is related to us, and it should be the same for all those seeking peace and stability in the region and other regions.” “This is also based on the many military capabilities we continue to pursue for the People’s Republic of China. Worry.”
The National Security Council added that the United States will “continue to maintain its ability to defend against and deter a series of threats from China.”
What is a hypersonic gliding vehicle?
There are two types of hypersonic weapons. The first is a highly mobile missile propelled by an engine. The second type is glider.
A hypersonic glide vehicle is a spacecraft—unlike a space shuttle—that is launched into orbit by a rocket. It then re-enters the atmosphere and flies towards the target at a speed exceeding five times the speed of sound.
The HGV can be used as a conventional weapon, using its speed to destroy the target on impact. But China is developing heavy trucks that can carry nuclear warheads.
Pentagon officials are increasingly expressing their concerns about the July test. The hypersonic glide vehicle is propelled into space by the “orbital bombardment system” rocket that can fly to the poles, keeping the weapon away from the US missile defense system, which focuses on countering the threat of ballistic missiles from the North Pole.
The orbital bombing system provides China with more ways to hit American targets. During the Cold War, Moscow deployed a system called the “Split Orbital Bombardment System,” but it was not advanced and did not carry a maneuverable hypersonic gliding vehicle.
US officials are well aware that China is ahead of the Pentagon in terms of hypersonic weapons. But tests on July 27 showed that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s rocket force made progress faster than many people expected. Beijing’s successful combination of an orbital system with hypersonic weapons that can launch missiles further strengthened this.
The hypersonic test was conducted at a time when China was rapidly expanding its nuclear power, which showed that it was abandoning the “minimum deterrence” posture it had maintained for decades. The United States recently stated that within this decade, its nuclear warheads will increase by at least 1,000.
The Chinese Embassy stated that it “doesn’t know” about the missile test.
“We are completely not interested in an arms race with other countries,” said Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the embassy. “The United States has been fabricating excuses such as the’China threat’ in recent years to justify the expansion of its armaments and the development of hypersonic weapons.”
Beijing refuted the first hypersonic weapon test disclosed by the British Financial Times, saying it was a test of a reusable spacecraft. However, according to people familiar with the two launches, the spacecraft’s test took place 11 days before the hypersonic weapon test. The British “Financial Times” also reported that China conducted another hypersonic weapon test on August 13.
General David Thompson, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Force for space operations, stated that the United States is “not as advanced as China or Russia” in terms of hypersonic weapons.
“We must catch up as soon as possible. The Chinese have been implementing incredible hypersonic plans for several years,” Thompson said at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday.
General Mark Milly, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently called the weapons test close to the “satellite moment,” referring to the Soviet Union becoming the first country to send a satellite into space in 1957.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week that he will not use the same language. But earlier this week, when he was preparing to retire as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Hayten expressed major concerns.
“Sputnik creates a sense of urgency in the United States,” Hayten told CBS News. “The July 27 test didn’t produce that sense of urgency. I think this might create a sense of urgency.”
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