Beijing Snares Top UK Physicist to Assist With Hypersonic Weapons Research

Beijing Snares Top UK Physicist to Assist With Hypersonic Weapons Research
The U.S. Department of Defense launches a sounding rocket from NASA's launch range at Wallops Flight Facility carrying hypersonic weapon experiments that will inform the development of the hypersonic class of weapons, on Wallops Island, Virginia, on Oct. 26, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Beijing has reportedly lured one of the United Kingdom’s (UK) top physicists and leading experts in the fields of multiscale gas, liquids, and solid systems—critically important for hypersonic research.

Zhang Yonghao, who worked in the UK for more than 20 years in leading universities, also held the Weir Professor of Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics chair position at the University of Strathclyde.

From 2020, he was also the Jason Reese Chair in Multiscale Fluid Mechanics at the University of Edinburgh.

In the UK, a chair professorship is the highest academic rank that can be achieved. It is regarded as a prestigious title only awarded to individuals making important contributions to their area of research.

An expert like Zhang is expected to help Beijing fast-track its hypersonics programs, particularly with his experience in rarefied gas dynamics and multiscale fluid mechanics.

Zhang’s contract with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mechanics is reported, by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), to have begun immediately after leaving the University of Edinburgh in October 2022.

The Institute of Mechanics says Zhang’s experience in organising large-scale projects and managing teams would be valuable for coordinating the efforts of researchers, the SCMP reports.

Hypersonics the New Focus of Modern Warfare

Currently, Russia, the United States, and China are locked in a race to create the most advanced hypersonic weapons.
There are concerns the United States is trailing behind both Russia and China in this field. So far, the United States has announced that in December 2022 it successfully launched its first hypersonic missile, the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) from B-52H Stratofortress bomber while in the air.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the missile can travel at over five times the speed of sound. 
Meanwhile, Beijing revealed in 2021 that it had launched a hypersonic weapon that circled the earth and struck a target. While Russia has reported that it has used hypersonic missiles to destroy a massive underground storage site for missiles and aircraft ammunition in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk area.

West Concerned Over Beijing Recruitment

The recruitment of Zhang comes after revelations Beijing had been recruiting former fighter pilots from the United States, UK, and Australia to train its pilots in Western air fighting techniques.
According to an intelligence alert from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD), up to 31 former UK military pilots have been recruited to train People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilots in the use of fast jets—like the Typhoon, Jaguar, Harrier, and Tornado—in South Africa.

A MOD spokesperson said, “We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK armed forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China.”

“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements across defence, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges—including this one.”

Meanwhile, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles has launched an investigation into the issue.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Marles said that he had “asked the [defense] department to investigate these claims and come back to my office with clear advice on this matter.”

“When our [Australian Defence Force] personnel sign up to the Defence Force, they do so to serve their country, and we are deeply grateful of that,” he said. “I would be deeply shocked and disturbed to hear that there were personnel who were being lured by a paycheck from a foreign state above serving their own country.”

US Fighter Pilot Currently Held in Australia on Conspiracy Charges

Currently, only one Australian individual is being investigated over links to Beijing.
Former U.S. fighter pilot Daniel Edmund Duggan is facing charges of conspiracy to unlawfully export defence services to China and violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, according to a 2017 indictment that was unsealed by a U.S. District Court in Washington on Dec. 9, Reuters reported.

Duggan, who holds both American and Australian citizenship, was arrested in October 2022 in the Australian regional city of Orange in New South Wales.

He served in the Persian Gulf during operations in Kuwait and spent time in the Spanish Navy, where he flew a range of military aircraft, including the AV-8B Harrier “Jump Jet,” T2C Buckeye, A4J “Skyhawk,” Hawk, and Mig29. He is also said to have worked as a senior tactical instructor for weapons and tactics, air combat, and low-altitude flying.

United States authorities allege that Duggan broke U.S. arms control laws by training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers on three separate occasions in 2010 and 2012.

The indictment also lists three unnamed co-conspirators from the UK, South Africa, and China, who it alleges were executives of a “test flying academy based in South Africa with a presence in the PRC,” and a Chinese national who acquired military information for the Chinese military.

It further alleged that Duggan was contracted by the unnamed Chinese national to provide services to a Beijing state-owned enterprise and evaluate trainee pilots in the People’s Liberation Army, test naval aviation equipment, and provide instruction on tactics related to landing aircraft on carriers.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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