Earlier this month, China carried out a maiden flight test of a new hypersonic vehicle that could be used on its ICBMs, theWashington Free Beacon reports.
Anonymous U.S. Defense Department officials said the test over China of the developmental glide vehicle, which they are calling the WU-14, took place on Jan. 9.
The WU-14 seems to be designed for mounting on intercontinental ballistic missiles. When the hypersonic vehicle detaches from the missile, it could travel as fast as Mach 10 from near space on the way to striking its target, officials said.
Department spokesman Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool confirmed that the test took place, but would not share details with the Free Beacon.
“We don’t comment on our intelligence assessments of foreign weapon systems,” the spokesman said in released comments. “We encourage greater transparency [by China] regarding their defense investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation.”
A trio of senior Republican lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on Monday criticized the hypersonic test and warned that U.S. defense spending reductions risked allowing Beijing to gain a strategic edge over the United States.
“While round after round of defense cuts have knocked America’s technological advantage on its back, the Chinese and other competitor nations push towards military parity with the United States; in some cases, as in this one, they appear to be leaping ahead of us,” Representatives Buck McKeon (Calif.), Randy Forbes (Va.) and Mike Rogers (Ala.) said in a statement.
Mark Stokes, a China strategic weapons researcher with the Project 2049 Institute, told theFree Beacon that the tested hypersonic craft is probably meant to be launched from a missile in its post-boost phase and likely “would be intended to counter existing midcourse missile defenses.”
The United States and Russia have their own conventional hypersonic weapon programs. The U.S. military in 2011 briefly tested a hypersonic vehicle at 20 times the speed of sound before it crashed into the ocean, though flight trials of other technologies at lesser hypersonic speeds have proceeded successfully. Moscow has said it expects to begin fielding hypersonic weapons that could travel at Mach 5 speeds or faster between 2018 and 2025.
India also is working on a hypersonic version of its Brahmos missile that could be capable of traveling between five and seven times the speed of sound.
Lora Saalman, who studies Chinese nuclear strategy for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an e-mail said there are indications that the Chinese government is seeking super-fast weapons with a more constrained range that would likely be equipped with conventional warheads, though they also could have an atomic capability.