The hypersonic test conducted by China in July achieved a world first after the nation fired a missile that exceeds the speed of sound at least fivefold. The technology mastered by China, that enables the country to fire missiles at hypersonic speeds mid-flight, remains unknown to the rest of the world.
While some experts think that the missile that was fired was an air-to-air missile, others estimate that it was actually fired to attack missile defense systems to prevent them from shooting the hypersonic weapon in case of war, reported FT.
While old rivals, the United States and Russia have been trying to succeed in building hypersonic weapons for years, it seems like China has become way more advanced than either in the field.
Firing missiles from hypersonic vehicles is referred to as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS). FOBS is a serious concern because it can potentially bypass missile defenses since they’re unpredictable and are able to maneuver at high speeds, as well as bypassing early warning systems with their immense speed.
The Chinese system carries a hypersonic glide that gains vast kinetic energy upon entering the atmosphere that is able to make a long maneuvering flight instead of carrying a traditional nuclear-armed reentry vehicle. A FOBS can do anything that traditional missiles can but from unpredictable vectors.
Darpa experts, the advanced research agency of the Pentagon, has no idea how China was able to achieve this feat of firing a guided missile from a vehicle that travels at hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere without destabilizing the glider.
The missile, even though it missed its target by 20 miles (32 km) highly concerned the officials at the Pentagon because it can fly over the South Pole, while the defense systems of the U.S. are solely focused on the North Pole.
Vice-chief of space operations at the U.S. Space Force, General David Thompson said the United States was “not as advanced” as China or Russia in hypersonic weapons.
“This development is concerning to us as it should be to all who seek peace and stability in the region and beyond. This also builds on our concern about many military capabilities that the People’s Republic of China continues to pursue” said a spokesperson for the National Security Council.
General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, called the weapons test close to a “Sputnik moment”, pointing out the Russian victory for putting a satellite in space before the US in 1957.
The breakthrough that China showcased an urgent need for hypersonic defense systems.