China tested ‘nuclear capable hypersonic missile’ in August, says report

It ‘circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught U.S. intelligence by surprise,’ the Financial Times reported.

Updated - October 17, 2021 08:37 am IST

Published - October 17, 2021 08:30 am IST

China’s military has carried out its first-ever test of a “nuclear capable hypersonic missile”, according to a report on October 17.

The missile in August “circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught U.S. intelligence by surprise,” the Financial Times reported.

The newspaper quoted five people familiar with the test as saying the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle “which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.” The missile “missed its target by about two-dozen miles”, three people told the newspaper, but two others added that it “showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than U.S. officials realised.”

The Financial Times noted that only the U.S., Russia and China were developing hypersonic glide vehicles, that are launched on rockets and then orbit the earth on their own speed. They are difficult to track because unlike ballistic missiles, they “do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory”. The newspaper said the test would post a big challenge to U.S. missile defence systems because “the weapon could, in theory, fly over the South Pole.” “That would pose a big challenge for the U.S. military because its missiles defence systems are focused on the northern polar route,” the report said.

The newspaper quoted security experts as saying the test was conducted in August. It noted that the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which carries out launches, had in July announced its 77th launch of a Long March rocket, and in end-August said it had carried out a 79th flight, sparking speculation about a secretive 78th launch that had not been reported.

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