In November of last year, China carried out the first flight tests of a new type of ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) that could destroy U.S. defense systems by flying fast and low to evade detection, the Diplomat reports.
The Diplomat learned this information from an anonymous U.S. government source who described recent intelligence assessments on the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), stating China had recently conducted two tests of a new missile known as the DF-17.
The first test allegedly took place on November 1, and the second took place on November 15. According to the Diplomat, the missiles traveled approximately 1,400 kilometers, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere at 10 times the speed of sound (up to 7680 miles per hour).
“The missile is explicitly designed for operational HGV implementation and not as a test bed,” the source said, describing U.S. intelligence assessments of the DF-17, according to the Diplomat. This was “the first HGV test in the world using a system intended to be fielded operationally,” the source also added.
The DF-17 is reportedly a medium-range system. It has a range capability between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers and is expected to be able to deliver both nuclear and conventional payloads, according to elements within the U.S. intelligence community.
As Newsweek highlighted, Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, told the South China Morning Post that the HGV system can be used to carry a number of types of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ones with a range of at least 5,500 kilometers (over 3,400 miles).
The HGV warheads could also be used with the DF-41, which has a range of at least 12,000 kilometers (almost 7,500 miles) and can hit anywhere in the U.S. in under an hour, he added.
The Diplomat further notes the dangers and challenges presented with the rise of such sophisticated technology and the parties that are rapidly advancing it:
“In addition to China, the United States and Russia are also developing hypersonic glider technology, but neither country is known to have flight-tested a system in a configuration intended for operational deployment to date…Hypersonic gliders, by virtue of their low-altitude flight, present challenges to existing radar sensor technology enabling missile defenses. By flying at a low altitude instead of reentering from a much higher apogee on a ballistic trajectory, adversary radars would detect HGVs with less time for an interception to take place before the payload can reach its target.”
Zhou Chenming, a military analyst, also told the South China Morning Post :
“[c]ompared to conventional ballistic missiles, HGVs are more complex and difficult to intercept…The U.S., Japan and India should be worried about China’s developments in HGV technology because it can reach targets quicker and more accurately, with military bases in Japan and even nuclear reactors in India being targeted.”
In October of last year, it was reported that China had been practicing bombing runs targeting Guam, a U.S. territory. Barely any media outlets paid attention to this story even though its implications are huge.
Whether or not these recent developments are intended to serve as muscle-flexing deterrence or if there is something more sinister on the horizon remains to be seen, but we would do well to take note of the current trajectory in global relations and conflict.