China’s hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), called WU-14 by the Pentagon, was launched into space by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) booster, after which it returned to the atmosphere to glide at up to Mach 10. The test was conducted within China, says the defense ministry in Beijing. On Jan. 19, another object was test-launched from the same space base at Taiyuan, says analyst Richard Fisher of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. The Jan. 9 test was first detailed by Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon.
China became the third country after the Russian Federation and the United States to have successfully tested a hypersonic delivery vehicle able to carry nuclear warheads at a speed above Mach 10 – or 12,359 kilometers per hour (7,675 mph). China is also believed to be developing a hypersonic scramjet version that can be launched from air or ground.
Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a United States military effort to develop a system that can deliver a precision conventional weapon strike anywhere in the world within one hour. A PGS system could also be useful during a nuclear conflict, potentially replacing nuclear weapons against 30 percent of targets. The PGS program encompasses numerous technologies, including conventional surface-launched rockets and air-launched hypersonic missiles, although no specific PGS system has yet been finalized.
Hypersonic missiles would be better at avoiding conventional anti-ballistic missiles. Normal rockets descend through the atmosphere on a predictable ballistic trajectory – their high speeds makes intercepting them extremely difficult. By the late 1980s, however, several countries began to develop interceptor missiles designed to destroy ballistic RVs. A hypersonic glider like the HGV could pull-up after reentering the atmosphere and approach its target in a relatively flat glide, lessening the time it can be detected, fired at, or (if the initial attack failed) reengaged. Gliding makes it more maneuverable and extends its range.
A vehicle like the WU-14 could be fitted to various Chinese ballistic missiles, such as the DF-21 medium-range missile (rumored to be called DF-26 with the HGV payload), and the DF-31 and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, extending their ranges from 2,000 km (1,200 mi) to 3,000 km (1,900 mi) and 8,000 km (5,000 mi) to 12,000 km (7,500 mi) respectively. Analysts suspect that the WU-14 will first be used in shorter-range roles as an anti-ship missile and for other tactical purposes to address the problem of hitting a moving target with a ballistic missile. Long-term goals may include deterrence of U.S. missile capabilities with the prospect of strategic bombardment against America, or other countries. With conventional interceptor missiles having difficulty against targets with late detection and maneuvering while traveling faster than Mach 5 (the WU-14 reenters the atmosphere at Mach 10), the U.S. may place more importance on developing directed-energy weapons as a countermeasure.
Chinese research papers have begun to synthesize discussions strategy and foreign weapons systems into what used to be purely technology-based studies. Second, interactions with People’s Liberation Army researchers confirm that such shifts are occurring. Third, these trends also emerge in scientific papers that explore China’s own pursuit of boostglide systems (rocket-launched gliders that travel in the upper atmosphere at hypersonic speeds) and scramjet engine designs (variants of ramjet air breathing jet engine in which combustion takes place in supersonic airflow), when discussing prompt global strike advances These studies demonstrate Chinese efforts to master both supersonic and hypersonic propulsion. In doing so, they combine hypersonic and boost-glide technologies, when modeling trajectories with hypersonic and scramjet systems.11 In essence, Chinese experts are seeking to recombine technologies to create new systems. Also on view is the cross-domain nature of Chinese interest, with a marked focus on development of space, maritime, and nuclear domains, as well as cyber, among other means, to undermine similar U.S. systems. Overall, these studies provide insights into how and why China is not only seeking to pursue similar systems and advances, but also to develop them beyond the scope of existing U.S. capabilities.
SOURCES – DARPA, Wikipedia, Aviation Week, Defining the Spear: Chinese Interpretations of PGS