US President Biden concerned about the report but one expert says technology is not new as he warns of another ‘pointless’ arms race.
China conducted not one, but two tests of new hypersonic weapons in July and August, the Financial Times (FT) newspaper has reported, raising more concerns in the United States about the growing military capabilities of its geopolitical rival.
The London-based Financial Times reported on Thursday that Beijing launched a rocket that employed a “fractional orbital bombardment” system to propel a nuclear-capable “hypersonic glide vehicle” around the Earth for the first time on July 27, according to four people familiar with US intelligence assessments.
More than two weeks later on August 13, China conducted a second hypersonic test, the report said citing two people familiar with the matter.
The newspaper initially reported, in a story published over the weekend that the first test was done in August, instead of the end of July.
The latest report said that the missile test “stunned” American military and intelligence officials about the Chinese military advance.
It further said that US scientists “were struggling to understand” the hypersonic weapon’s capability, “which the US does not currently possess”.
In response to the FT’s initial report, China’s Foreign Ministry said that it had only launched a space plane and the test took place on July 16.
“It’s understood that this was a routine test of a space vehicle to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday.
Zhao was quoted by state-owned broadcaster CGTN as saying that the test was “essential” for reducing the cost of spacecraft use, and providing a convenient and inexpensive way for humans to use space for “peaceful purposes”.
US ‘very concerned’
In a statement earlier this week, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the administration of President Joe Biden was very concerned about the latest development in China’s nuclear arms capability and “novel delivery systems”.
Reporters travelling with Biden on Wednesday also asked him if he was concerned by the report, and he replied, “Yes”.
According to estimates and analysis, hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 6,200 kilometres per hour (3,853 miles per hour) – more than five times the speed of sound, which travels at about 1,235 km/h (767 mph) and evade even the most advanced radar systems.
China conducted 2 hypersonic weapons tests this summer. One stunned US officials because China demonstrated a capability the US does not have & government scientists do not understand how China pulled off the unspecified feat.https://t.co/M24rXrYwxM
— Demetri Sevastopulo (@Dimi) October 20, 2021
On Monday, US Senator Angus King described the new weapon as a “strategic game-changers with the dangerous potential to fundamentally undermine strategic stability as we know it”.
“The implications of these weapons under development by China or Russia could be catastrophic,” the senator from Maine was quoted by reports as saying.
The US is also said to be racing to develop its own hypersonic weapon technology.
According to reports, US military contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies are involved in the missiles’ development.
Writing for the Foreign Policy magazine, Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that China’s test was “unwelcome news”, but he added that the technology was “not new”, pointing out that the Soviet Union deployed the same system during the Cold War.
Lewis, however, warned that the latest development “is yet another step in a pointless, costly, and dangerous arms race”.