British media reported that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August, and its performance caught U.S. intelligence services by surprise. However, a military expert raises questions on the authenticity of the sources.
The Financial Times, a British media, on Oct. 17 exclusively cited five anonymous sources as saying that the Chinese Communist military launched a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle that flew in low orbital space and then cruised to its target. “The test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than U.S. officials realized.”
Xia Luoshan, a military commentator and host of Epoch Times’ “Military Affairs” column, questions the veracity of five unnamed sources cited by the report. “A typical anonymous source, obviously unofficial, which in the least does not convince us that it is true.”
“In addition, the report does not say where the missile landed or what type of target aimed at,” Xia said, “For example, where the target was, whether the missile circled the globe and returned to the target area in China, whether the target was on the ground or at sea, it was fixed or moving, and so on.”
Absent such information, it is difficult to judge the truthfulness of the information and the actual capabilities of the missile, Xia said.
The Financial Times quoted a Chinese security expert with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) military, saying that the weapon was developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA), a research institute under a state-owned company.
The hypersonic glide vehicle was reportedly launched on a Long March rocket used for the CCP’s space program. The CCP usually announces the launch of Long March rockets, but this time it apparently concealed the test, reported The Financial Times.
On Oct. 18, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied that China had tested hypersonic missiles, claiming just a routine test to verify q spacecraft’s reusable technology.
That was the CCP’s usual response “of course, the CCP does not want the outside [world] to know its actual situation, perhaps to create an impression of terror,” Xia said.
Assuming that the Financial Times’ sources are true, Xia continued, the missile looks like a large-size DF-17, a Chinese medium-range ballistic missile that might be able to travel longer distances if it is carried by a larger rocket to reach higher orbital altitude and speed.
As quoted in three sources from The Financial Times, the missile missed its target by about two dozen miles.
“This is an outrageous error,” said Xia. “If it is carrying a conventional warhead, basically impossible to pose any real threat to the target. But if it’s a nuclear warhead, it’s a human self-destruct mode, and the CCP itself would invite a greater degree of a retaliatory nuclear attack, which would be tantamount to suicide.”
Xia pointed out that The U.S. typical UGM-133A Trident II ballistic missile can carry multiple W88 or W76 nuclear warheads with a range of more than 11,000 kilometers and a flight speed of 24 Mach (about 29,401 kph), with a circumferential error of only 90–120 meters.
The United States has also stealth bombers and fighters capable of carrying nuclear bombs that can penetrate deep into the interior to carry out precision bombings on the CCP’s sensitive targets. Nuclear warheads can also attack targets underground with an accuracy of fewer than 10 meters, killing targets while minimizing damage to surrounding civilians and facilities, the military expert said.
The British report said that the hypersonic weapons travel at five times the speed of sound and do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory of ballistic missiles, making them more difficult to track.
“But that doesn’t mean it can’t be intercepted, it is possible to be intercepted during the cruise phase of flight, just less successful,” said Xia, also indicating the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles have long been able to attack fixed targets with precision at over 20 times the speed of sound.
“Because the U.S. has not yet made any official comments about it … there is no way for the outside world to verify [whether China tested a Hypersonic Missile].
“Anyway, this is enough to attract the attention of the U.S. military,” Xia said.
The Pentagon did not comment on the report, but John Kirby, spokesperson of the Pentagon told The Financial Times, “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond … That is one reason why we hold China as our number-one pacing challenge.”