China conducted the third flight test of a new hypersonic missile this week as part of its strategic nuclear program and efforts to develop delivery vehicles capable of defeating U.S. countermeasures, defense officials said.
The flight test of the developmental Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle was monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies Tuesday during a flight test in western China.
The latest flight test followed earlier tests of the Wu-14 on Jan. 9 and Aug. 7. The three tests indicate that China’s development of a strike vehicle capable of traveling up to eight times the speed of sound is a high-priority element in China’s large-scale military buildup.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the test but declined to provide details.
“We are aware of reports regarding this test and we routinely monitor foreign defense activities,” Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Pool told the Washington Free Beacon.
“However, we don’t comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems,” Pool added, noting that the Pentagon has encouraged China to adopt greater openness with regard to its defense investments and military objectives “to avoid miscalculation.”
Last month in Beijing, the United States and China agreed to a new military accord that called for notifying each country of major military activities. It could not be learned if the Chinese notified the Pentagon in advance of the Wu-14 test.
The Wu-14 was launched atop a Chinese ballistic missile and released along the edge of space.
Past tests of the glide vehicle were clocked as reaching an estimated speed of Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound—around 7,680 miles per hour.
Such speeds create difficult aeronautics and physics challenges for guidance systems and place extreme stress on materials used in construction of the vehicle.
The annual report of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, made public Nov. 20, reveals China’s hypersonic weapons program is a major development effort.
The report said the People’s Liberation Army “is developing hypersonic glide vehicles as a core component of its next-generation precision strike capability.”
“Hypersonic glide vehicles could render existing U.S. missile defense systems less effective and potentially obsolete,” the report said.
The report said once deployed the Wu-14 “could enable China to conduct kinetic strikes anywhere in the world within minutes to hours.”
China plans to deploy its high-speed glide vehicle by 2020 and a scramjet powered hypersonic vehicle by 2025.
Lee Fuell, technical director for force modernization and employment at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), told the Commission that Chinese glide vehicle is launched on a ballistic missile, dives to hypersonic speed and glides to its target. The weapon currently is assessed to be “associated with [China’s] nuclear deterrent forces.”
“Of great concern would be if [China] was to apply the same technology and capability with a conventional warhead or even just without a warhead because of the kinetic energy that it has in combination with their theater ballistic missiles … in a theater role,” Fuell said.
The intelligence analyst said that hypersonic vehicles “are extremely difficult to defend against because just the time is so compressed between initial detection, being able to get a track, being able to get a fire control solution, and then just being able to have a weapon that can intercept them in some way just because of the speed at which they’re moving.”
“If that is combined with more traditional ballistic missile attacks forcing a target to defend against very high aspect warheads coming in this way at the same time they have to defend against low altitude, very high speed targets coming in [another] way, it makes the defense problem orders of magnitude worse for the defender,” he said.
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