China’s explanations denying the launch of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile have not reassured the international community. U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said there are “concerns about what China is doing in developing hypersonic technology. We just don’t know how we can defend against that kind of technology, neither China nor Russia,” he said.
Why is Beijing’s missile test this summer of such concern in the United States? Fundamentally because it uses a technology capable of reaching any point on the planet with a nuclear payload in a short time and because it is very difficult to neutralize. Hypersonic missiles are maneuverable and steerable en route and render anti-ballistic missile systems ineffective, since they fly at a minimum of five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), i.e. they are capable of exceeding 6,125 kilometers per hour. Thus, a missile of these characteristics launched from Beijing towards Washington would take one hour and 50 minutes to hit its target. In addition, the height they take is low compared to ballistic missiles, which draw a high arc trajectory.
Hypersonic projectiles are much faster than cruise missiles, which are characterized by their high accuracy and short range. They also differ from ballistic missiles, which are fast and travel long distances but are less accurate. It should be recalled that the Chinese hypersonic missile missed its target by only 20 kilometers.
The United States is working on a technology capable of slowing down hypersonic missiles, but the Chinese launch in August was not detected by the Pentagon, according to the Financial Times, the newspaper that revealed the test carried out by Beijing. The US uses the Patriot defense system, but is unable to neutralize a low-flying hypersonic device with artificial intelligence.
Washington, which has invested billions in its missile defense, is also developing hypersonic projectiles, as is Russia, which recently tested the launch of one of them, the so-called Tsirkon.
What do we know about the launch secretly conducted by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army? The Chinese hypersonic projectile reached five times the speed of sound and flew through space in low orbit, circling the globe before heading for its target. The missile, carried on a hypersonic glide vehicle, was launched into space by rocket boosters, similar to those that launch spacecraft. When they run out of fuel, in just a few minutes, the boosters detach and fall, and the glide vehicle continues to orbit the Earth at nearly 4,000 mph, under its own momentum.
Nicolas Chaillan, former Pentagon software director, warned that Beijing is headed for global dominance due to its advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and cyber capabilities. For his part, Congressman Mike Gallagher warned with a criticism of Joe Biden’s administration saying that if the United States does not react China is going to win the new Cold War. “This missile test launch should serve as a call to action. If we stick to our current course, we will lose the new Cold War.”
Russia is the most advanced country in the development of this type of missile, with models such as the Avangard, the Kinjal and now the Tsirkon, capable of flying up to Mach 9 and with a theoretical range of 1,000 kilometers. The first launch from a ship last month was a success and served to shorten its entry into service in the Russian Navy, where it will equip frigates and later nuclear submarines.