Although Chinese official deny this test taking place, sources confirmed a Chinese surprise hypersonic test flight in August with a nuclear-capable missile according to a recent Financial Times article. The missile that was tested circled the globe before speeding toward its target. The U.S. intelligence community was reportedly caught off guard by the test which was confirmed by five officials.
Even though the test was not a complete success and the missile missed its target by just over 24 miles, it was far more advance than U.S. officials realized. And it has raised new questions about why the U.S. so often underestimates China’s new technology.
hypersonic glide vehicle used for the test
The flight that happened in August was lifted into space by a Long March 2C rocket – the 77th launch for a rocket of its time. The hypersonic glide vehicle then circled the earth and headed toward its target. And while these hypersonic glide vehicles travel at a speed of five times the speed of sound and are technically slower than a ballistic missile, these missiles have the advantage of not following a fixed parabolic trajectory, making them harder to track.
Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy who was unaware of the test, said a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China “negate” U.S. missile defense systems that are designed to stop incoming ballistic missiles.
This is because “Hypersonic glide vehicles … fly at lower trajectories and can maneuverer in flight, which makes them hard to track and destroy,” said Fravel.
Tensions Mount between U.S. and China
Tensions between the U.S. and China have intensified with the Biden administration continuing a touch tack on Beijing. China officials have accused Washington of being overly hostile. With the recent air show showing off new technology to the world, China’s recent infringement on Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, and an unexpected nuclear test. Tensions continue to mount.
Michael Gallagher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “The People’s Liberation Army now has an increasingly credible capability to undermine our missile defenses and threaten the American homeland with both conventional and nuclear strikes.“
The U.S. military officials in recent months have warned about China’s growing nuclear capabilities. They released satellite imagery showing that China was building more than 200 ICBM silos. China is not currently bound by any arms control deals and has been unwilling to engage in talks with the US about its nuclear weapons and policies.
China Calls Hypersonic Missile Test Routine
Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times tweeted, “China has no intention to engage in a nuclear arms race. But it’ll certainly improve quality of its nuclear deterrence to ensure the U.S. abandons the idea of nuclear blackmail against China, or use nuclear forces to fill the gap as U.S. conventional forces cannot crush China.”
The Biden administration is currently working on the Nuclear Posture Review. The Pentagon did not comment on the report but expressed concerns over China. “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,” said John Kirby.
With all the information about the test, the Chinese foreign ministry denies the hypersonic missile. Instead, Zhao Lijian, a Chinese spokesperson said, “This was a routine test of space vehicles to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability.”