China has launched ahead of the United States with “several dozen successful hypersonic missile tests that Washington cannot ignore,” Missile Defense Agency commander Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves warned Tuesday.
“The Chinese have now done several dozen successful hypersonic (missile) tests… we just cannot (ignore),” Greaves briefed a group of government officials held by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
Under Secretary of Defense for Management and Engineering Michael Griffin also acknowledged that China had alarmingly carried out dozens of successful hypersonic missile tests and warned that Russia was not far behind the Chinese in hypersonic missile development.
“Hypersonic missiles [are] being developed by both China and Russia. We are concerned about both … When they have done dozens of tests we have not done that is a concern,” he said.
In August, China allegedly showed one the tests via footage from a new missile test that would likely make a mockery of US missile defense systems in battle. The experimental “waverider” vehicle, China’s first, rides the shock waves generated during hypersonic flight. It could one day carry multiple nuclear warheads to North America undetected.
According to the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA), an aerodynamic research institution in Beijing and part of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC), the hypersonic missile test was conducted in northwestern China.
The CAAA released a statement last month, indicating the Starry Sky-2 missile was carried into space by a solid-propellant rocket before separating.
Video of the rocket launch
#China has successfully tested its new aircraft, the Starry Sky-2, which can even be used to carry nuclear missiles at a speed never seen before. Recently China & #Russia showed the world their new toys. For whom they display it? What intention is behind that? #defense #Military pic.twitter.com/XqA2AsleZn— Cristina Font 柯伊娜 (@cfontharo) August 7, 2018
After separation, it descended to lower altitudes as it autonomously conducted extreme turning manoeuvers, reaching Mach 5.5 (hypersonic speeds) for more than 400 seconds, and reached a top speed of Mach 6, or 7,344km/h (4,563mph), the CAAA WeChat statement said.
The test was deemed a “complete success,” stated CAAA, which posted a series of behind the scenes images of the experiment on social media. “The Starry Sky-2 flight test project was strongly innovative and technically difficult, confronting a number of cutting-edge international technical challenges.”
Although the missile is still in development stage and probably a few years out from series production, waveriders could be used to carry conventional and or nuclear warheads undetected through the world’s most advanced anti-missile defense systems.
Last month was the first time China had officially confirmed its development of “waverider” technology, though it has been working on hypersonic glide vehicles since 2014. China, Russia, and the US are the main contenders in the hypersonic race and are engaged in what some see as a new arms race based on the technology.
Earlier this year, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US is extremely vulnerable to future attack by hypersonic missiles.
“The first, most important message I want to deliver today is that the forces under my command are fully ready to deter our adversaries and respond decisively, should deterrence ever fail. We are ready for all threats. No one should doubt this,” Gen. Hyten said in his opening statement.
However, in a follow-on conversation with Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, Hyten cautioned:
“we [US] don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon [hypersonic missiles] against us.”
Admiral Harry Harris, former head of the US Pacific Command and now the ambassador to South Korea, said in February, “China’s hypersonic weapons development outpaces ours… we’re falling behind.”
To make up for lost time, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin with approximately $1.5 billion in contracts this summer to develop a hypersonic missile for the Air Force.
While many believe American Hegemony is here to stay, there is a strong possibility that it could be somewhat displaced in the coming years as China gains access to hypersonic technologies.