China has reportedly carried out a flight test for its new hypersonic vehicle the WU-14. This test was 3rd of its kind. The vehicle is capable of travelling at up to eight times the speed of sound. The experts suspect that the Chinese program is part of the development of its strategic nuclear program.
The Wu-14 is assumed to be a hypersonic glide vehicle with high-accuracy and high speed projectile characteristics. A Pentagon representative also confirmed the test, but declined to comment further.
“We are aware of reports regarding this test and we routinely monitor foreign defense activities,” Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Pool said. “However, we don’t comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems.”
Lora Saalman, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said China’s third test of the Wu-14 in a year suggests an ongoing trend of militarization.
“Not only does this third test of the WU-14 in one year indicate that this is a priority program for China, it also suggests that U.S. historical concerns over a Chinese quantitative ‘sprint to parity’ in nuclear weapons are misdirected,” she was quoted as saying in the Beacon.
Hyper-sonic weapons have existed for some decades. The new Chinese and US missiles which are being developed today, belong to a class of their own because of the “boost-glide” technology. It enables them to travel very fast at a flat angle.
Boost-glide weapons are unique as they follow a hard-to-trace trajectory. That means these missiles are very difficult to target using current missile-defense systems.
The weapons “are launched by big rockets just like a ballistic missile is,” explained Carnegie nuclear expert James Acton. “But then rather than arcing higher than the atmosphere, they are put on a trajectory to re-enter the atmosphere as quickly as possible. Then they just glide to the target,” he was featured as saying in Business Insider this fall.
Experts say hypersonic capabilities are indicative of a large scale military build-up. Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon strategic forces specialist, was quoted as saying in the Washington Free Beacon that China’s latest hypersonic vehicle test poses “a serious threat.”
The US and China have been engaged in what some have dubbed a hypersonic arms race. This summer, the US tested its own hypersonic missile after China ran its second test of the Wu-14. Though both countries had successfully tested hypersonic weapons in the past, both August tests failed.
Russia has also announced plans to build its first hypersonic missile before 2020. India, too, is likely to partner with Russia ultra-high speed arms.