WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Hypersonic weapons change the global balance of military power, and China and Russia are way ahead of the US.
As the race to be the world’s mightiest superpower continues to heat up China has apparently upped the ante and secretly tested a nuclear capable hypersonic missile which orbited the globe in mere minutes before returning to Earth to strike its target in a technological development that would overcome US anti-ballistic missile systems and to all intents ad purposes make them obsolete.
However, while the report from the Financial Times, which cited five unnamed intelligence sources, said the Chinese military launched the Long March rocket in August carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle into low orbit seems credible, that is based on the evidence we’ve seen so far of China’s hypersonic weapons development programs which include everything from the development of a new world beating Mach 30 wind tunnel as well as numerous other hypersonic weapons tests including the “carrier killing” DF-17, and swarms of hypersonic drones, as with anything of this nature coming out of China it’s hard to verify.
After all, so far we’ve had the Chinese laser rifle, Chinese quantum radar which would make US stealth obsolete overnight, which is actually kind of a thing, and the Chinese silent submarine caterpillar drive all announced in recent years. But none have been demonstrated publicly – other than the laser rifle which lots of people then took pot shots at because to date there’s no battery pack powerful enough on Earth to power a laser rifle that comes in such a small form factor.
All that said though apparently China’s latest weapon circled the globe before descending towards its target, which it missed by about two dozen miles – which ironically isn’t bad for a missile travelling at 21,000 mph and which can strike anywhere on Earth from space within minutes.
In fact navigation is the biggest problem facing hypersonic weapons development and deployment which is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) based piloting systems and dynamic stabilising systems come into play – but all that’s another story.
If true then the new system would be able to overcome US anti-ballistic missile defence systems that are based in Alaska and set up to shoot down projectiles coming over the North Pole – because the missiles would simply fly in from the south.
The incident has left US intelligence officials stunned, sources say, as it shows “China has made astonishing progress on the development of its hypersonic weapons.”
“We have no idea how they did this,” a person familiar with the test told the FT.
And this is the latest development in a fast ramping arms race taking place in Asia as tensions between China and Taiwan, as well as the rest of the region, continue to grow. Along with China, the US, Russia and at least five other countries are working on hypersonic technology, and last month North Korea also said it had test fired a newly developed hypersonic missile.
Ballistic missiles fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories at higher speeds. Hypersonic weapons are very difficult – some say impossible – to defend against because of their fast speeds and shallow trajectories.
The Pentagon didn’t comment on China’s testing of the hypersonic missile, but did acknowledge China as their “number one pacing challenge.”
“We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Fox News. “That is one reason why we hold China as our number one pacing challenge.”