China Pushes For Space Supremacy With Nuclear-Capable Hypersonic Missile Test

by Swarajya Staff - Oct 18, 2021 01:09 PM +05:30 IST
China Pushes For Space Supremacy With Nuclear-Capable Hypersonic Missile Test A missile being test-fired. (Representative image)
Snapshot
  • China conducted a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test in August, displaying a capability that caught the American intelligence community by surprise.

As reported by the Financial Times, China, earlier this year in August, tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the entirety of the globe before hitting close to the target. The move, vindicating China’s advanced space capabilities took many in the United States intelligence community by surprise.

As per the report, people familiar with the test stated that the Chinese military launched a rocket that had a hypersonic glide vehicle flying through the lower-orbit space. However, the missile missed the target by more than 20 miles, yet validating the progress the Chinese had made on hypersonic weapons, leaving the US behind in the modern-day arms race. The success of the test has raised an important question as to why the US has always underestimated the modernisation capacity of the Chinese military.

The development of hypersonic weapons is one that has the US, China, and even Russia engaged. The weapon development also includes glide vehicles that are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their momentum, flying at a speed five times the speed of sound. As per an expert, a Chinese nuclear missile, armed on a glide vehicle, could breach the defences installed to destroy ballistic missiles. However, the same expert is unsure if a test amounts to immediate deployment of such a weapon system by China.

The test will also be seen in the context of Taiwan, where the Chinese have increased their activities in the past few months. An assertive China with advanced spaced weaponry could pose a fresh challenge for the US.

Already, in recent months, given the growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, the military officials within the US have warned against China’s increasing nuclear capabilities. Not many months ago, a satellite image confirmed that China was building more than 200 intercontinental missile silos. What complicates matters further is that the Chinese are not bound by any arms-control policy and have also been uninterested in engaging with the US on the issue.

Quoting people with knowledge about the test, the report of the Financial Times stated that the weapon could fly over the South Pole posing a threat to the US which has always been militarily focused on the North Pole. The Chinese embassy, however, did not comment on the test but Liu Pengyu, one of the spokespersons, stated that the policies of the Chinese military were always defensive in nature and did not target any country. However, on separate occasions, multiple Chinese officials have confirmed that the tests were also a deterrence against the nuclear blackmail policy of the US.

Commenting on the secrecy of the test, a security official was quoted in the report, stating that the Chinese military generally announces the launch of such vehicles into orbit, or what they also call the Long March Rockets, but the August launch was not made public.

The weapon has been developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Dynamics (CAAA). Before the August launch, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, on 19 July, in its official social media statement had posted about a Long March 2C rocket, adding that it was the 77th launch of the rocket. On 24 August, details of a 79th launch had been made public, thus leaving many to speculate about the 78th launch which now has been confirmed as this test. However, there has been no official word so far by the CAAA.

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