Communist China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile late this summer that circled the planet before taking aim at its target; a test that has stunned the Biden administration.
“Five people familiar with the test said the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target,” Financial Times reported.
“The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realized.”
“We have no idea how they did this,” one of the five people told FT.
“The US, Russia and China are all developing hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles that are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum,” the report added.
“They fly at five times the speed of sound, slower than a ballistic missile. But they do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory of a ballistic missile and are maneuverable, making them harder to track.”
Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe warned earlier this year that the Biden administration was in for a shock once they were finally brought up to speed on the advancements that the Chinese military has made in recent years.
Ratcliffe said that “China has closed the gap” in certain areas which he could not reveal because “it poses a national security threat to acknowledge that, but there are places where China’s frankly doing a better job, and it’s further down the curve on some technology issues than we are, and that’s never been the case before.”
The Pentagon is currently trying to find ways to drive down the cost of hypersonic missiles, which are far superior to cruise missiles, but also more expensive.
Reuters reported in July:
Russia said on Monday it had successfully tested a Tsirkon(Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile, a weapon President Vladimir Putin has touted as part of a new generation of missile systems without equal in the world.
The defence ministry said in a statement that the missile had been fired from the Admiral Gorshkov, a warship located in the White Sea, and travelled at around seven times the speed of sound before hitting a ground target on the coastline of the Barents Sea more than 350 km (217 miles) away.
The Chinese military unveiled hypersonic weapons back in 2019.
“We’re no longer in a period of overwhelming American dominance but rather one in which our armed forces are adapting to fight against near-peer competitors who are fielding increasingly sophisticated capabilities,” said Randall G. Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs. “Instead of expecting to dominate an opponent, our armed forces are learning to expect to be contested throughout a fight while achieving the political objectives set for them.”
The Wall Street Journal highlighted one of the weapons that was revealed that has defense experts concerned:
The Dongfeng-17, or DF-17, is thought to be China’s first operational missile mounted with a hypersonic glide vehicle — capable of flying at more than five times the speed of sound — and the first such weapon deployed anywhere in the world, defense experts said.
Once launched, the missile is designed to release a hypersonic glide vehicle that can cruise at relatively low altitude and speeds above Mach 5, or about 3,400 miles an hour, changing direction if needed. That allows it to evade current missile defense systems.