The U.S. Department of Defense appeared to be shocked in the summer and fall when it detected two tests by China’s military of hypersonic missiles circling the globe in low-Earth orbit at five times the speed of sound before heading to their alleged targets. You’d better sit down for this … especially if you work for the Pentagon. These tests of “fractional orbital bombardment” “hypersonic glide vehicles” just got worse. A new report says the test in July showed the vehicle itself may not have been the weapon — the hypersonic glider vehicle fired a projectile at five times the speed of sound … something thought to be impossible.
“Experts at Darpa, the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, remain unsure how China managed to fire countermeasures from a vehicle travelling at hypersonic speeds, said the people familiar with details of the demonstration.
Military experts have been poring over data related to the test to understand how China mastered the technology. They are also debating the purpose of the projectile, which was fired by the hypersonic vehicle with no obvious target of its own, before plunging into the water.”
The Financial Times revealed that Pentagon scientists don’t know what the projectile was – it could have been an air-to-air missile or possibly a defense or decoy system to protect the primary hypersonic missile. While the National Security Council says it has a “concern about many military capabilities that the People’s Republic of China continues to pursue,” the Chinese embassy said it was “not aware” of the missile test and pointed the finger back at the U.S., as it did after one of the alleged tests, accusing the U.S. of deploying secret weapons in space like the X-37B space plane.
The web site The War Zone has been on top of this story and cautions that neither the hypersonic glider nor the object it fired have been positively identified as missiles. However, it strongly resembles a reusable vehicle with the ability to carry and deploy a payload that could be nuclear. It could also be a modification of the hypersonic missile, allowing it to hit two targets on one trip.
General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has referred to this as “a first-use weapon” that is “pretty impressive” and “probably should create a sense of urgency” – “first-use” refers to a first strike missile. That sounds pretty bad. Let’s hope things don’t get worse.
“The wind tunnel can meet the test requirements of hypersonic aircraft such as conventional force/pressure measurement, air inlet, dynamic simulation, weapon separation and release, aerodynamic heat and flow display.”
China Aviation News reported this week that the country’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) announced its FL-64 wind tunnel passed a series of calibration tests that will eventually allow it to simulate hypersonic speeds between Mach 4 and Mach 8.
Special thanks to The Financial Times and The War Zone for their excellent coverage of these events.