US Defeats China When It Comes to Hypersonic Missile Technology

US Defeats China When It Comes to Hypersonic Missile Technology
The X-60A hypersonic missile test system (Image: GENERATION ORBIT)

International Military - Compared to the United States (US), China is one step ahead when it comes to hypersonic missiles. According to the Eurasian Times, China is developing a heat-seeking hypersonic missile capable of hitting a moving target at five times the speed of sound.

The research team, led by Yang Xiaogang of the PLA Rocket Force University of Engineering in Xian, claims to have made "important progress" in overcoming major difficulties with hypersonic missiles. Then it can be concluded that China will be able to fire hypersonic missiles and destroy targets in enemy countries at super long ranges with absolute precision.

If China's claim is true, it could cause widespread concern in the US. Because intercepting hypersonic missiles is not an easy thing to do. Hypersonic missiles have an unpredictable path, high speed and use of reentry vehicles.

However, a more worrying precedent is China's claim of the ability to accurately strike the US Air Force's F-22 Raptor stealth aircraft with hypersonic missiles. In January this year, Chinese scientists claimed they had produced a next-generation hypersonic weapon with advances in infrared tracking that the U.S. military may not have until 2035.

Chinese experts later stated that its hypersonic missiles can hit almost any target with incredible accuracy and speed, including stealth aircraft, ships and even vehicles moving on the road, thanks to its heat-seeking capabilities. According to the South China Morning Post, a Chinese military specialist previously stated that "a hypersonic surface-to-air missile can catch up and destroy an F-22 (Raptor) in seconds if it fires a missile or drops a bomb at close range".

According to the US Air Force, heat-seeking missiles shot down more than 90% of all aircraft lost in the 1980s, and stealth fighters such as the F-22 can easily become targets for hypersonic missiles because the coating material easily heats up while flying.

This is especially concerning against the backdrop of frequent engagements between the Chinese and US militaries in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, US Pacific Command Commander General Kenneth Wilsbach has previously hinted that there was a brief engagement between American F-35s and Chinese J-20s in the region.

US Hypersonic Missile Still in Test Phase

While China claims its hypersonic missile capabilities are capable of striking the F-22 Raptor, the US hypersonic missile is still in the testing phase.

Launching, the US Air Force announced on May 16 that it had successfully tested a hypersonic missile off the coast of California. A B-52 Stratofortress bomber from Edwards Air Force Base released its Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) on Saturday.

The missile reached a speed five times greater than the speed of sound. "After separation from the aircraft, the ARRW booster ignited and burned for the expected duration, reaching hypersonic speeds five times the speed of sound," said US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. in a press release.

Prior to May 14, the service had three failed hypersonic missile launches. That of course raises doubts about the development of hypersonic weapons.

"The program has not been successful in research and development so far," Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the House Appropriations Subcommittee to Defense on May 13.

"We want to see evidence of success before we make a decision on a production commitment, so we'll go on to wait and see."

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies who specializes in nonproliferation and weapons control issues, said research on hypersonic technology was important, but was likely motivated by political concerns from lawmakers concerned about competition. "The political pressure I think is real," Lewis said.

"If China or Russia tests a capability, there is only immense pressure on the United States to demonstrate the same capability even if it doesn't apply to what we want to do," he continued.

In March, Russia's defense ministry claimed its military used hypersonic missiles to destroy underground ammunition depots as well as fuel depots during state battles in Ukraine. For the first time, a country has used hypersonic weapons in combat.

Military officials at the time downplayed the threat. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CBS News' "Face the Nation" that reporting on Russian President Vladimir Putin's military use of hypersonic missiles was likely a diversion tactic to sow fear in the international community.

"I wouldn't see it as a game changer," Austin told CBS. "I think the reason he's using this type of weapon is because he's trying to rebuild some momentum. And once again, we've seen it attack cities and civilians head-on, we hope to see it continue."

Since then, a senior US defense official told reporters that Russia has used between 10 and 12 hypersonic weapons so far in military operations in Ukraine.

Recently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers during a May 11 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing that Russia's use of weapons is not "really significant".

Last year, military officials confirmed China had a successful hypersonic launch that had circumnavigated the globe. “It traveled the world, dropping a hypersonic glide vehicle that was hurtling back toward China, impacting targets in China,” Air Force General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS News in November.

According to the US Air Force, the recent launch of hypersonic weapons in California will make history for Washington. The reason is, it is the first hypersonic weapon that was successfully launched by the US. "This is a major achievement by the ARRW team, for the arms companies, and our Air Force," said Brigadier General Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons in a press release.

"We are ready to build on what we have learned and continue to advance hypersonics." ARRW, developed by Lockheed Martin, uses a rocket booster to launch missiles into an area at breakneck speed before a launcher separates to reach its target.

Hypersonic missiles – some of which have nuclear-carrying capabilities and can be fired from great distances at devastating speed – have nearly the same effect on ground targets as conventional bombs, making the use of such an extremely expensive weapon surprising.

But that hasn't stopped the US from prioritizing research and development of a new class of weapons. By 2022, lawmakers approved $509 million for hypersonics. That number has grown to $577 million in the 2023 budget proposal.

With a hefty price tag to build, test, and eventually field the missiles, Lewis said they likely won't be used by the Air Force in combat any time soon.

"It's a pretty exotic capability that was early in development, which may or may not be useful," Lewis said. "I suspect this will always be a special ability, in part because it will probably be quite expensive,".

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