In July, China tested an unprecedented ability of its new hypersonic weapon; firing a separate missile while traveling at Mach 5. Last month, the Pentagon admitted the test had caught them unawares. But a new report reveals even more shocking details of China’s hypersonic capabilities that US military experts can’t even begin to understand.
Launching a separate vehicle at Mach 5
Experts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently revealed that China’s hypersonic weapon that took the world by surprise in July had an additional ability. Capable of flying at five times the speed of sound while carrying a nuclear warhead, the weapon, essentially a space vehicle, fired a projectile in midflight. Experts are still unsure of how this was achieved and don’t even know what the purpose of the projectile was. The projectile fired midflight landed in the water and did not seem to have a target. Some conjectures suggest the projectile may have been electronic countermeasures capable of targeting an enemy’s missile defense systems while others suggest it may have been an air-to-air missile.
First reported in the Financial Times, the new development is deeply concerning to military experts.
“This development is concerning to us as it should be to all who seek peace and stability in the region and beyond,” said a spokesperson for the National Security Council. “This also builds on our concern about many military capabilities that the People’s Republic of China continues to pursue.” The NSC added that the US would “continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of threats” from China.
There are two types of hypersonic weapons. The first is a maneuverable missile propelled by an engine. The second is an aircraft that glides. It is essentially a space vehicle that is launched into orbit via a rocket. It reenters the atmosphere at Mach 5 (over 3,800 mph), flying at its target.
The hypersonic glide vehicle tested by China in July was capable of bypassing the US’s air-defense systems by flying over the South Pole.
China denied the test involved a hypersonic vehicle, claiming that it was testing a reusable space vehicle.
“We are not at all interested in having an arms race with other countries,” said Liu Pengyu, the embassy spokesperson. “The US has in recent years been fabricating excuses like ‘the China threat’ to justify its arms expansion and development of hypersonic weapons.”
Financial Times reported that the test of the reusable space vehicle had taken place eleven days prior to the test of the hypersonic vehicle.
The test caught the US by surprise in what General Mark Milley, chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, called a “Sputnik moment”.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, becoming the first country to launch a manmade object into orbit. The US was caught off guard and initiated a massive effort to take the lead in the space race.
China has many more military surprises in store. Its creators claim the new hypersonic weapon has a range of 2,000miles and can travel at six times the speed of sound. It is designed to create a chemical explosion over a city but can be adapted to take out entire naval carrier groups or fitted with an electromagnetic pulse weapon that could disable electronics. State media claims the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile has a range of over 3,000 miles and a speed of an astounding Mach 18, over 13,800 mph.
China is rapidly expanding its nuclear forces, indicating it is abandoning the “minimum deterrence” stance it has maintained for decades. China was estimated to have an arsenal of about 260 total warheads as of 2015. In September US officials discovered that China was constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos at as many as three locations. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and could have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. The American stockpile stands at approximately 3,750 nuclear warheads.