Reporting on Saturday based on unnamed sources indicates that China is testing hypersonic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. The Chinese military reportedly conducted a test launch of a rocket in August that carries a hypersonic glide vehicle that can fly through low earth orbit.
The vehicle is capable of maintaining orbit before cruising back into the atmosphere towards its target. The test vehicle reportedly missed its mark by about two dozen miles.
Traditional ballistic missiles fly into space before returning to the atmosphere without orbiting the Earth. They move toward their targets at steep return trajectories. Hypersonic weapons are much more difficult to defend than ballistic systems, as they fly at much more flat trajectories toward targets while achieving more than Mach 5, or around 3,850 miles per hour.
The report stated that the Chinese test indicates “astounding progress on hypersonic weapons.” It added that the system tested is “far more advanced than U.S. officials realized.”
Reuters sought comment from the Chinese defense ministry, but no response had been made as of Sunday.
The U.S. and Russia are also developing hypersonic missile systems. North Korea claimed in September that it had tested a hypersonic missile system it is developing. China has previously displayed a hypersonic missile and other advanced weapons as far back as 2019.
An expert on China’s nuclear weapons capabilities said that the type of system reportedly tested could “negate U.S. defense systems” that are designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. America’s ballistic missile defense systems are focused on the Arctic Circle and the North Pole. Hypersonic cruise systems might completely circumvent those defenses by flying over the South Pole and Antarctica while targeting locations anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the U.S.has made its concerns clear regarding the military capabilities China is pursuing. He added that those increased capabilities “only increase tensions in the region and beyond.”