Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
By: Daniel Barker
China has just conducted the third flight test of a hypersonic missile which has the potential of breaching U.S. missile defense systems. The successful flight test of the Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle was carried out early in December, following two other tests which occurred earlier in 2014.
The Wu-14 is still in the developmental stage, but China plans to have it ready for deployment by 2020. The hypersonic glide vehicle has the capability of reaching speeds of Mach 10 (10 times the speed of sound) — nearly 8,000 miles per hour.
The development of hypersonic missiles appears to be a top priority for China as the country continues its massive military buildup. In addition to the Wu-14 program, the Chinese are developing a hy personic scramjet-powered vehicle while also continuing to expand their overall military capabilities in other areas, such as submarines and multiple-warhead missile systems.
Hypersonic missiles pose a challenge for defense systems, particularly if they were to be used in combination with other missiles in an attack, according to the 2014 annual congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report, which was released in November:
In the report, Lee Fuell, who is the technical director for force modernization and employment at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), said that if hypersonic missile attacks were “combined with more traditional ballistic missile attacks forcing a target to defend against very high aspect warheads coming in this way at the same time they have to defend against low altitude, very high speed targets coming in [another] way, it makes the defense problem orders of magnitude worse for the defender.”
In other words, U.S. missile defense systems could theoretically be overwhelmed by such an attack.
The report also stated that the Wu-14 could give China the capability to “conduct kinetic strikes anywhere in the world within minutes to hours.” Such weapons have the potential to make existing defense systems “less effective and potentially obsolete.”
The Pentagon confirmed that it had monitored the latest test flight, but it is unclear whether China alerted the U.S. before it took place. Both countries agreed to a new military accord in Beijing last month which calls for each country to notify the other when major military operations are conducted.
The U.S. has been developing its own hypersonic missile program, but the amount of money being spent on it is miniscule compared to estimates of the cost of the Chinese program. U.S. hypersonic missile tests have not been altogether successful, either — a hypersonic weapon was destroyed seconds after its launch during a test in August at the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska when it was discovered that there was a problem in the system.
Russia is also developing hypersonic missiles and plans to be able to deploy them by 2020. Military analysts are warning of a hypersonic arms race now underway between the China, the United States and Russia.
The current arms race is disturbingly reminiscent of the Cold War, in which the concept of “Mutual Assured Destruction” was first introduced. Many are calling for an increase in spending by the U.S. to keep up with the rapid development of hypersonic weapons by our potential enemies, and so the vicious cycle continues.
As the superpowers compete for military superiority, billions of dollars are being spent while the world becomes increasingly unstable in terms of the possibility of a full-scale attack being staged — whether triggered by accident or on purpose.