by Debalina Ghoshal
New Delhi, India (SPX) Feb 18, 2015
Beijing's significant military advance has been furthered with its venture into hypersonic weapons systems. China is working on hypersonic cruise missiles for which it is working on scramjet engines and also on Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV).
In 2014, Beijing has conducted three test-firings of its HGV, the Wu-14. The first test-firing was conducted in January, while the second one was conducted in August and the latest one has been conducted in December and witnessed both success and failure with the tests.
According to the United States, this Wu-14 is believed to be a component of Beijing's strategic nuclear program1 and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission annual report stated that the Wu-14 was a "core component of its next-generation strike capability."2
This "game changer"3 Wu-14 is designed to be mounted atop ballistic missiles to "an undisclosed suborbital altitude and then released." The vehicle then dives towards its target at speeds of up to Mach 10.
There is little doubt that this 'assassin-mace weapon' is another category of counter-measure being developed by Beijing to evade the US missile defence systems.4 The dragons have time and again raised their apprehensions on the US missile defence program and oppose the same on the grounds that it negates Beijing's nuclear deterrent capability. Beijing has been developing counter-measures like decoys and chaffs on their ballistic missiles.
China is also making its ballistic missiles fly either a depressed or lofted trajectory as counter-measures against missile defence system. China is also working on multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs)5 and maneuverable re-entry vehicles (MARVs)6 which could nullify US missile defence systems, both National Missile Defence (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD).
Evasion of ballistic missile defence is possible due to the high speed at which these systems travel and also because of their flat trajectory7 which makes it difficult for missile defence system to defeat the system.
This is further coupled with the capability of the HGV to perform a pull-up maneuver after entering the atmosphere8 and increasing the chances of the HGVs to attack time- sensitive targets by reducing their time of reaching the targets. According to Mark Stokes, these gliding vehicles would be intended to evade mid course missile defence system.9
Apart from enabling ballistic missiles to nullify US missile defence system, this system mounted atop a ballistic missile also increases range the range of the missile. Missiles with depressed or lofted trajectories reduce the range of the ballistic missile system. The same is the case with MIRVs, which also reduces the range of the ballistic missile.
These limitations of range could be corrected by mounting atop the HGV on the ballistic missile. Further, Beijing's ballistic missiles are dual-capable, that is they can delivery both conventional and nuclear warheads. Hence, HGVs can not only strengthen China's nuclear deterrent but also its conventional deterrence. China's HGV is "undoubtedly a component of Beijing's Anti-Access Area-Denial (A2/AD) strategy formulated to check the growth of the United States in the Asia Pacific region."10
Reports confirm that the HGV could be mounted atop the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM)11 which can put the US aircraft carriers at threat. This Wu-14 could also increase the range of the DF-21D AShBMs and enable them to target the US Navy nuclear powered carriers (CVN) even if they are stationed at a considerable distance.
Reports have confirmed that while the United States currently is developing the exa-atmospheric targeting capabilities there is no plan as of now by the US Navy to developing endo-atmospheric targeting capabilities.12
However, Larry Wortzel a former China-based military intelligence officer had advised the United States to concentrate on "airborne and ship-borne laser programs and electromagnetic guns."13
The United States is also working on the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTVs) and Advanced Hypersonic Weapons as a part of its 'Prompt Global Strike' strategy.
While the former is a venture of the US Air Force14 the latter is a venture of the US Army.15 Russia too has laid importance to hypersonic vehicles when in 2012, Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin claimed that this technology had become a priority for Russia.16
In 2014 China has also been conducting test firings of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMS) which included the DF-41s, DF-31s and the DF-5 category ballistic missiles.
The continuous test-firing of its HGV technology makes Lora Saalman's analysis of China's HGV program true that "[w]ith the integration of strategic analysis and planning into technical research, China's pursuit of hypersonic and high-precision weaponry promises to be faster and more focused than that associated with its previous [anti-satellite] and [ballistic missile defense] related research and programs."17
There is little doubt that the hypersonic race as started already and states like the United States, Russia, China and India are already gearing up their technology to keep pace with each other.
Centre for Air Power Studies
Military Space News at SpaceWar.com
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