The ultra-fast maneuvering strike weapon known as the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle was launched atop a ballistic missile fired from the Wuzhai missile test center in central China’s Shanxi Province, according defense officials.
The vehicle separated from its launcher near the edge of the atmosphere and then glided to an impact range several thousand miles away in western China, said officials familiar with details of the test.
The DF-ZF flight was tracked by U.S. intelligence agencies and flew at speeds beyond Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
A US report (annual report of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission) indicates the DZ-ZF could be ready by 2020, and a ramjet-propelled cruise missile by 2025. It is thought that China would use nuclear-armed hypersonic vehicles in its retaliatory strike capabilities, while conventional warheads could be delivered over long-distances.
Janes reports that as with previous tests, this one was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi Province, where China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) tests most of its long-range missiles.
The key advantages of a boosted hypersonic manoeuvring vehicle are that it can radically change its trajectory to avoid missile defences and has 'gliding' capabilities that give an extended range over that of a conventional ballistic missile warhead.
While a hypersonic manoeuvring strike vehicle could be nuclear armed, it is also likely that China plans such warheads to perform non-nuclear precision strike missions, such as arming a next-generation anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).
It is likely that the DF-ZF test vehicle is being launched by a booster based on the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile and could arm a future version of this missile. However, it could also arm a version of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) DF-26. Both the DF-21 and DF-26 use 'first-generation' warheads that could be succeeded by a more manoeuvrable DF-ZF-based hypersonic warhead.
The high rate of testing for the glide vehicle is an indication China has placed a high priority on the weapon program and that it is making rapid progress.
The Chinese conducted earlier flight tests on June 7, and on Jan. 9, 2014, Aug. 7, 2014, and Dec. 2, 2014
China Space Flight reported the flight path of the hypersonic test.
SOURCES - Free Beacon, Janes, China Space Flight