China tests hypersonic missile as part of military expansion

China in August tested a hypersonic missile in orbit around the globe before heading towards its target, adding new capability to Beijing’s already large military buildup, US officials said.

US officials and weapons experts outside the government have speculated that the missile program could be designed as a way to escape US missile defenses with a nuclear system.

U.S. missile defenses are currently unable to thwart a substantial Chinese nuclear attack, but Beijing could fear that U.S. missile capabilities will be expanded in the future, officials and experts said.

Some US officials say, however, that the new missile could be designed as a non-nuclear system that could be used to attack US ports or facilities in the Pacific.

The system, if fully developed, would hardly be the most threatening weapon in China’s arsenal. China has also built silos for ICBMs, which experts say are cheaper and much more accurate.

China currently has a small nuclear arsenal of several hundred warheads, according to US officials and weapons experts. But U.S. officials have expressed concern that it could at least double over the next decade and that Beijing’s ultimate goal is to achieve parity with the much larger nuclear triad of US forces. United.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the test.

China has released footage of soldiers throwing smoke grenades and storming a beach in a province just across the Taiwan Strait. The WSJ examines how tensions have escalated, threatening to draw in the United States and disrupt supply chains. Photo: video surveillance

A Chinese spokesperson said China carried out a routine test of a spacecraft in early summer. The August test had previously been reported by the Financial Times, which reported that the test missed its target by more than 20 miles. US officials have confirmed that the missile missed its target.

“This is part of a larger build-up,” said Robert Soofer, who was a senior Defense Department official for nuclear and missile defense policy under the Trump administration. “This is part of an effort to achieve military parity at all levels.”

Details on the Chinese system are scarce. But the system has been described as a rocket that transports a gliding vehicle into a low earth orbit. This glider vehicle separates from the rocket and maneuvers toward its ground target at high speed, with a less predictable flight path than that of a typical ballistic missile. The United States and Russia are also working on hypersonic weapons.

US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall appeared to allude to China’s new hypersonic missile in a Sept. 20 speech in which he said China was developing the ability to launch “global strikes from space.”

“There is a potential for weapons to be launched into space and then go through this old Cold War concept called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System … which is a system that basically goes into orbit and then de-orbits back to a target, ”Mr. Kendall said.

The bombing system was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s to evade early warning radars and American anti-missile systems by attacking from multiple directions. It was called a “fractional” system because it was not designed to go into a full orbit of the earth. But Moscow later abandoned the system.

Under the Trump administration, the State Department offered talks with the Chinese on strategic stability. They were aimed at encouraging Beijing to participate in negotiations limiting long-range nuclear weapons, which China has long refused to do.

The Chinese did not accept this offer from the United States, which could also have provided the two sides with an opportunity to discuss nuclear doctrine and new weapon systems.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States was still interested in entering into a dialogue.

“We are deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s nuclear capabilities, including its development of new delivery systems,” the spokesperson said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

If China were to agree to such stability talks, the spokesperson continued, the format would be “fit for purpose” and would not need to mirror the one the United States had with Russia on the future of the country. arms control and the definition of strategic stability.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at [email protected]

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