Artist’s rendition of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 by DARPA, image from darpa.mil
China has successfully tested its first hypersonic missile delivery vehicle capable of penetrating US missile defense system and delivering nuclear warheads with record breaking speeds, Pentagon officials have confirmed.
The new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), dubbed the WU-14 was allegedly spotted flying at record-breaking speeds during a flight test over China on January 9, an anonymous Pentagon official told the Washington Free Beacon.
The new weapon delivery system is reportedly designed to be launched as the final stage of China’s intercontinental ballistic missile, which would approach its target at a velocity of up to 10 times the speed of sound. Hypersonic speed range lies between Mach 5 and Mach 10, or 3,840 to 7,680 miles per hour.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the Chinese test launch but declined to provide details.
“We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test,” Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine Corps spokesman, told the Washington Free Beacon.
“However, we don’t comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems,” Pool said in a statement. “We encourage greater transparency regarding their defense investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation,” he added.
Hypersonic vehicles, which are also being designed by the US, India and Russia, are developed for precise targeting, rapid delivery of weapons, and are being tested to outmaneuver hostile missiles and space defenses.
“A boost glide missile theoretically would be intended to counter existing mid-course missile defenses,”Mark Stokes, a former US Air Force officer told the Washington Free Beacon.
Strokes explained that China is developing two hypersonic flight vehicle programs – one believed to be of a post-boost vehicle designed to be deployed from a missile that pursues its target from near space, or some 62 miles from earth. Basing his hypothesis on emerging reports from China, Stokes believes that hypersonic glide vehicles could reach Mach 12 speeds of up to 9,127 miles per hour, potentially compromising a US missile defense.
“The beauty of the HGV is that it can perform hypersonic precision strikes while maintaining a relatively low altitude and flat trajectory, making it far less vulnerable to missile defenses,” Rick Fisher, an analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Washington Free Beacon.
“With the integration of strategic analysis and planning into technical research, China’s pursuit of hypersonic and high-precision weaponry promises to be faster and more focused than that associated with its previous [anti-satellite] and [ballistic missile defense] related research and programs,” Lora Saalman, a specialist on Chinese strategic systems with the Carnegie Endowment Saalman said in an email to the publication. “This recent test is a manifestation of this trend.”
The Chinese are “actively seeking global military power to challenge the United States, and it is not yet in any mood to talk, or engage in arms control, about it,” Fisher said.
In May, the Pentagon’s assessment of Chinese capabilities suggested that China built the world’s largest shockwave hypersonic wind tunnel capable of generating test flying conditions of up to Mach 9 speeds.
Two Chinese technical papers from December 2012 and April 2013 revealed that the country is developing precision guidance systems designed to be directed via satellite. The second Chinese paper concluded that hypersonic weapons pose “a new aerospace threat.”
Current American hypersonic research is being conducted through the FALCON program in association with the Pentagon and Air Force. The US is in the process of perfecting Lockheed HTV-2, an unmanned, missile-launched aircraft capable of gaining speeds of up to Mach 20, or 13,000 miles per hour. The US Air Force is also testing the X-37B Space Plane, which has been orbiting earth since December 2012.
At the same time Boeing is working on the X-51 WaveRider, a jet-fueled, air-breathing hypersonic rocket developed for the Air Force to be used for hypersonic attack and reconnaissance missions.
Russia too has confirmed the development of similar ultrasonic technology. The Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in its annual report that Russia is building “a new class of hypersonic vehicle” that would “allow Russian strategic missiles to penetrate missile defense systems.”
“We are experiencing a revolution in military science,” Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said last June, after the 4th test of an advanced road-mobile ICBM, a “missile defense killer” called the RS-26 Rubezh (‘frontier’). “Neither current nor future American missile defense systems will be able to prevent that missile from hitting a target dead on.” Moscow is also developing the S-500 air and space defense system, with interceptors capable of shooting down hypersonic missiles.