Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2014-01-24 06:05:50 Published on Jan 24, 2014
The report of a Chinese hypersonic missile vehicle test is yet another signal that the People's Republic of China intends to contest the hegemony of the United States across the spectrum.
Significance of China's hypersonic missile vehicle test
" The report of a Chinese hypersonic missile vehicle test is yet another signal that the People's Republic of China intends to contest the hegemony of the United States across the spectrum. However, given the American lead in terms of military power, China's thrust continues to be towards developing asymmetrical capabilities generally classed under the acronym A2/AD (anti-access/area denial). In the case of the hypersonic vehicle test, the target seems to be the American anti-ballistic missile programme. In other words, China is ensuring that its nuclear deterrent against the US will not be degraded by any American capabilities in the anti-missile field. The first report of the Chinese test of a hypersonic missile vehicle on January 9 came from the legendary Bill Gertz writing in the Washington Free Bacon newspaper. I Gertz, for those who may not be familiar with him, has deep ties in the Pentagon and he cited US officials as saying that the vehicle appeared designed to deliver warheads through US ballistic missile defences. Subsequently, on January 15, the Chinese Ministry of Defence confirmed the report noting: "Our planned scientific research tests conducted in our territory are normal. These tests are not targeted at any country and at any specific goals." According to Gertz, citing US officials, the hypersonic craft was designed to be launched on one of China's intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which then glides and maneuvers at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound from near space to its target. Vehicles travelling at hypersonic speeds—between 3,800 to 7,500 miles per hour—are the cutting edge technology which can be both powered and unpowered, the former can take off on their own, while the latter can be boosted atop launch vehicles. The US and Russia have been experimenting with hypersonic vehicles for some time, and now China has joined the list. India has also talked about a follow-on to the Brahmos supersonic missile. But in all likelihood, the key technologies here will be provided by the Russians. In any case, they are the world leaders in hypersonic technology with many missiles using ramjet propulsion. The Russians are already in the flight testing stage and the Russians are now involved in next gen technologies using hydrogen-fueled scramjet engines. A former commander of Russia's strategic nuclear forces in Moscow said China's hypersonic vehicle test was a milestone but that Beijing trails both Russia and the United States in the development of the arms. "China has hardly surpassed the Americans and the Russians as it has just accomplished its first hypersonic missile test," former Strategic Rocket Forces commander Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin told Interfax-AVN. Without access to the Chinese test results it is impossible to gauge the success of China's hypersonic weapons programme. "We should say at the same time that the United States and Russia have conducted a number of hypersonic missile tests but they have not achieved the successful separation of glide hypersonic warheads," he said. "The designers have run into numerous problems and most of them have not been resolved so far." II The key Chinese expert cited in many places in the Chinese media was Chen Hu, whose background and specialisation is not clear. Many of the reports repeated his interview to the Chinese Central People's Broadcasting Station. III Core secret of the hypersonic weapons In general, before the ballistic missile re-enters the atmosphere, it can release warheads. It can be both a single-warhead and also a multiple-warhead. Outside the warhead, there is a carrier device that re-enters the atmosphere. In principle, it is a bit like the re-entry of the Shenzhou spacecraft, which requires the material of the outer case to be capable of withstanding harsh environment, so as to protect warheads to complete its flight. A warhead, in general, is a ballistic flight warhead. Speaking from its significance in the past, it used to be a free parabolic type of warheads which took flight according to a fixed trajectory. Now after we have a hypersonic gliding vehicle, once the warhead enters the atmosphere, it completes the flight, following the flight trajectory. Real significance The United States launched an anti-missile system to settle the problem of early warning, and fixed trajectory of the ballistic missile. By a lucky coincidence, it has left room for reaction time, because in the fixed ballistic missile, only if one can accurately measure parameters such as location and speed, only then can one calculate the entire ballistic path. It leaves enough reaction time for interception at the end. Once the gliding vehicle is used, the ballistic trajectory changes immediately on contact with the atmosphere, flying according to controls. Therefore, the greatest significance of the hypersonic weapons is to effectively break through the core technology of end phase interception of anti-missile system. Fringe benefits Such a gliding-type loader will bring in some fringe benefits: first, the effective range of the missile can be extended. Its flight distance will be much more than the original free fall, which means that the range of missile can be significantly increased. A bomb is still a bomb, rocket is still a rocket. But as long as the warhead is used in a modified way, its range will expand. This is obviously a very big advantage. Technical possibilities Another benefit is that since it will complete flight in flight mode, it will then require accurate positioning, and then must accurately hit that point. These warheads have to have an accurate terminal guidance system. The speed of the warheads of the Intercontinental missile, during the carrier phase, may be above 20 Mach. Therefore, when it re-enters the atmosphere at high speeds, the friction between the warheads and the atmospheric air produces high temperatures and heat, leading to the production of plasma and the blanking of electric circuits. Therefore, it must have a black barrier zone. Once it enters the Black barrier zone, radio communications and video signals are interrupted. The speed of the glider will then drop from 20 mach to 10 mach, avoiding a blackout zone and making precision guiding possible. It will then have the ability to hit moving targets. This is very significant, since it means that it can be effective against targets at sea. It also provides technical possibilities for striking an aircraft carrier." I.    Bill Gertz," China Conducts First Test of New Ultra-High Speed Missile Vehicle", The Washington Free Beacon , 13th January 2014.Available at II.    Bill Gertz, "Chinese Defence Ministry Confirms Hypersonic Missile Test", The Washington Free Beacon , 15th January 2014. Available at III.    Available at> (The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi) "
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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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