Just what we need, another arms race. China's stepping up its bid for ballistic missile superiority, having just successfully test-fired the country's first hypersonic missile delivery vehicle, one capable of penetrating American air defences to potentially deliver nuclear warheads. The Pentagon is not amused.
The WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) is part of China's extremely secretive missile development program, which has been quietly modernising the country's conventional and nuclear missile systems. The missile test itself was not broadcast among any public channels but was detected, an anonymous Pentagon official confirmed with the Washington Free Beacon, flying at extremely high speeds over mainland China on January 9. And while details of the HGV are very slim at this point, analysts believe it works much like the HGV's developed by other nations including the US, India and Russia.
It's assumed that the HGV is launched aboard an ICBM, separates from the missile's final stage while still in space, some 62 miles above the planet's surface, and then zooms back into the atmosphere at more than ten times the speed of sound—around 7,680 miles per hour. That's fast enough to enter American airspace before they can even react. By comparison, today's cruise missile technology tops out at around 500 to 600 mph.
This prospect does not sit well with many members of US Congress, including Republican House Armed Services Committee members Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Rep. Randy Forbes and Rep. Mike Rogers. The three issued a joint statement last Tuesday calling for a redoubling of American efforts to maintain pace with the rate of Chinese military developments.
"While round after round of defence cuts have knocked America's technological advantage on its back, the Chinese and other competitor nations push towards military parity with the United States; in some cases, as in this one, they appear to be leaping ahead of us," the statement read. "This situation does nothing to support peaceful coexistence in the Pacific. We have dithered for three decades now, delaying badly needed replacement equipment for our troops, relying on hardware that was built during the Reagan years."
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine Corps spokesman who confirmed that the test took place, was decidedly non-plussed however. He told the Washington Free Beacon:
We routinely monitor foreign defence activities and we are aware of this test. However, we don't comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems. We encourage greater transparency regarding their defence investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation.