In August, U.S. intelligence was wholly taken aback by China’s advanced space capabilities, witnessing the test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the globe before flying rapidly towards its target.
According to five people familiar with the test, a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle flew through low-orbit space before descending to its target.
Even though the missile missed its target by about two dozen miles, China demonstrated incredible advances in hypersonic weapons that were far superior to what American officials anticipated.
The test compelled the United States to reconsider its underestimation of China’s military modernization: “We don’t know how they did it,” said one person, as reported by FT.
The United States, Russia, and China are all working on hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles. Flying at five times the speed of sound, slower than a ballistic missile, they are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum.
M Taylor Fravel, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of security studies, indicated that supersonic gliders fly in a lower orbit and can maneuver in flight. As a result, it makes them difficult to track and destroy, thereby “negating” U.S. missile defense systems designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
The expert on China’s nuclear weapons policy also expressed concern about such weapons being fully deployed and developed. However, he also asserted that the test did not necessarily prove that Beijing would deploy the capability.
Concerns about China’s nuclear capabilities are mounting as Beijing expands its conventional military force and engages in military operations near Taiwan.
The Biden administration has taken a hard line against Beijing, which has accused Washington of being overly hostile. Tensions between the United States and China are escalating accordingly.
China is unwilling to include the United States in negotiations on its nuclear arsenal, and any arms control agreement does not bind its policy. However, after satellite images revealed that the country was constructing more than 200 bunkers for intercontinental missiles, U.S. military officials have issued even more dire warnings about China’s growing nuclear capabilities in recent months.
Last month, Frank Kendall, the U.S. Air Force secretary, hinted that Beijing was working on a new weapon, something similar to the “Fractional Orbital Bombardment System” that the USSR deployed in a part of the Cold War, before giving it up. He said: China has made significant advances, including “the potential for global strikes. … from space.”
In theory, this weapon can fly over the South Pole, which poses a significant challenge for the U.S. military because the country’s missile defense systems are all aimed at the northern polar route, two of the people familiar with the Chinese test said.
According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, the United States is concerned about China’s continued pursuit of military capabilities, which only heightened tensions in the region and beyond. That is also why the U.S. regards China as the most significant challenge in terms of development speed.
The Chinese Embassy’s spokesman, Liu Pengyu, declined to comment on the test but insisted that the military development was not aimed at any specific country. Instead, China always pursues a “defensive nature” military policy.
“China has absolutely no interest in an arms race with other countries,” Liu added. She also accused the United States of always making up excuses like “the threat from China” to justify the arms expansion and development of hypersonic weapons in recent years.
An Asian national security official said that China typically announced the launch of a Long March rocket, used to launch hypersonic vehicles into orbit, but they concealed the August launch.
According to a Chinese security official and another Chinese security expert, the hypersonic glide vehicle was launched by a Long March rocket used in the space program. Both sources also confirmed that the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics is developing the weapon.