World News

China Confirms Hypersonic Missile Delivery Test

China has conducted an experimental flight of a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle designed to travel several times faster than the speed of sound.

Beijing's Defense Ministry did not comment on the outcome of the test, which it called scientific in nature and not targeted at any particular country.

But Larry Wortzel,* a commissioner with the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, says China's military development indicates it is clearly focused on one country as a potential adversary.

"Chinese military planners really seem convinced that their most likely enemy and their greatest potential threat is the United States. They have a lot of other concerns. Things are not great with Russia even though they buy a lot. Things are a lot worse with Japan. But they focus on us (U.S.) and they focus on our (American) technology.

The Pentagon confirmed, but would not comment on, the Chinese test, which comes as some in the U.S. worry about China's rapid military growth.

Dan Blumenthal, Director, Asian Studies at American Enterprise Institute, says it is not longer credible to talk about conventional military capabilities in the Asia Pacific without talking about the conventional nuclear mix.

"I think this is an area of deeply needed research, which is what exactly is China's nuclear policy today and given some of the things that are coming out, what kind of capability do they have and what kind of capability do we need to retain escalation control."

If perfected, hypersonic technology could allow countries to strike targets anywhere in the world within minutes, bypassing missile defense systems.

Experts say it is extremely difficult to master the technology needed to control the hypersonic vehicles, making it unclear how soon they will be ready for use.

Charles Vick, a senior technical analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, says hypersonic technology is still in the development stage, but could be ready in five to 10 years.

Vick tells VOA it is difficult to track, detect and intercept a hypersonic vehicle, because it does not fly as high as ballistic missiles.

"It is almost impossible to be shot down by existing anti-ballistic missile systems. It is highly maneuverable and represents a real technological challenge to any anti-ballistic missile system in development or existence today."

The United States is also developing, and has tested, hypersonic vehicles. One of the vehicles, the Falcon HTV-2 is made by Lockheed Martin, which says it can travel at a speed of Mach 20. Russia is also developing the technology.

U.S. Pacific Command chief, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said Wednesday he is not particularly concerned about the Chinese test, but said it represents China's ability to develop new technologies.

China has steadily increased its military expenditures as its economy expanded in recent decades, though it remains far outpaced by the United States in defense spending.

(VOA's Victor Beattie and Xu Bo contributed to this report)

(This report was produce in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.)

*an earlier version of this report erroneously identified Mr. Wortzel as being with the Heritage Foundation

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