X-51A Waverider Hypersonic Aircraft
X-51A Waverider Hypersonic Aircraft

Scientific experiments carried out by China within its borders are normal, conducted according to a schedule, and are not directed against any specific country or target, the Ministry of National Defense said.

The ministry’s press office was responding to a US media report claiming that China conducted a third test flight of a new hypersonic missile on Dec 2, following flights in January and August.

Hypersonic speeds are generally defined as five or more times the speed of sound.

The testing of the experimental Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle was part of China’s “strategic nuclear program and efforts to develop delivery vehicles capable of defeating US countermeasures”, the Washington Free Beacon quoted US defense officials as saying.

“The three tests indicate that China’s development of a strike vehicle capable of traveling up to eight times the speed of sound is a high-priority element in China’s large-scale military buildup,” the conservative news website said on Dec 4.

A senior Chinese military analyst said China has made progress in hypersonic weapons programs, something the United States is now paying close attention to.

Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, said: “Some people in the US portray such tests as a threat because they find it difficult to acknowledge the narrowing technology gap, or the strengthening of China’s overall military capability.

“The greater the speed, the more powerful the hypersonic weapons are. Although China still lags behind global military powers like the United States in this field, the US is concerned about losing the usual huge advantage of its strike and deterrence capability.”

Lee Fuell, technical director for force modernization and deployment at the US Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, said hypersonic vehicles “are extremely difficult to defend against because the time between initial detection, tracking and interception is so limited”, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Li said China carried out hypersonic research many years ago, but only started conducting serious experiments recently as the expanding economy meant it could afford to do so.

Leading military powers such as the US and Russia also have hypersonic weapons programs. US funding for the weapons’ development is around $360 million, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

The website quoted US Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Pool, a Pentagon spokesman, as saying: “We are aware of reports regarding this test and we routinely monitor foreign defense activities.

“However, we don’t comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems.”