This hypersonic glide vehicle before cruising down towards its target had flown through low-orbit space and the hypersonic speed is five times the speed of sound.
Amidst continued efforts being made by China to expand its presence in the region and its increased tension with Taiwan, its military earlier this year had launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle. This hypersonic glide vehicle before cruising down towards its target had flown through low-orbit space and the hypersonic speed is five times the speed of sound.
The test was carried out in August by China and the US intelligence was caught by surprise, according to a report in the London-based Financial Times on Saturday.
The FT reports which cites various sources reads, “During the test, the missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence.”
Adding, “Two others have said that the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realized. And the test has raised new questions about why the US often underestimated China’s military modernization.”
According to the FT report which is citing a security official and security expert of that country has stated that the weapon was being developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA). This was being done under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which is responsible for making missile systems and rockets for China’s space programme. The sources cited had been quoted as saying that the vehicle was launched on a Long March rocket. The Long March rocket is used for the space programme.
So what can this glide vehicle do?
In theory the vehicle can fly over the South Pole. And, this could be a huge challenge for the US military as its missile defence systems are focused on the North Pole, according to the FT report.
China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology had on its official social media platform announced in July this year that a Long March 2C rocket was launched and it was its 77th launch. And this was followed by another announcement on its social media on August 24, about the 79th flight. What was surprising that there was no announcement about the 78th launch?
Which are the other countries which are developing such weapons?
According to the FT report, the US, Russia and now China are developing hypersonic weapons. And this includes glide vehicles which are launched into space on a rocket, and they orbit the earth on their own momentum.
According to a report in the US based military news portal BreakingDefense.Com in about a year from now, the US Army is soon going to deliver its first operational rounds of its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon to a unit. The report states that the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon is a major part of the US Army’s Long-Range Precision Fires effort, a critical modernization priority because it pivots to the dispersed Indo-Pacific. The news portal had also earlier reported that the LRHW can fly further than 2,775 km, or about 1,725 miles.
What about India?
In 2020, the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had test fired the Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV) from the Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha.
The scramjet technology used in hypersonic vehicles is not only complex but very expensive too.
According to experts, several more tests will need to be carried out before a credible scramjet powered hypersonic delivery system can be built. What was tested last year by India was a scramjet-powered HSTDV with a speed of Mach 6. It was a 22 second flight and it was at an altitude of 30 kms. And in the 22 seconds flight it covered 40 kms.
What does it mean for India?
With the neighbouring China now getting more aggressive in building its military and nuclear capabilities, for India it is a matter of concern. These capabilities highlight the threat to India’s space assets as well as assets based on the land.
In 2020, DRDO had also inaugurated an advanced Hypersonic Wind Tunnel (HWT) test facility in Hyderabad. This is an enclosed free jet facility and is pressure vacuum driven and simulated Mach 5 to 12.