China conducted a hypersonic weapons test in July by sending a missile around the world at more than five times the speed of sound. The details of the test were shared by General John Hyten, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the United States.
“They launched a long-range missile. It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, and impacted a target in China,” Hyten, the second highest-ranking American military officer, said while speaking to news agency CBS News.
Hyten said that China may one day be able to launch a surprise nuclear attack on the US. He said that the missile may have missed its mark but it was close enough to hitting its target.
A report by Financial Times said that the missile missed its target by several kilometres but it was the first time any nation tested a hypersonic missile around the planet. Hypersonic weapons travel more than five times the speed of sound which poses a challenge for radars trying to detect them.
Hyten said the missiles are a ‘ first-use weapon’ and added that China carried out hundreds of hypersonic tests, while the US has conducted just nine. He also said that the US did not field a hypersonic weapon but China deployed one medium-range hypersonic weapon.
China downplayed the claims while confirming the test on October 18. It said that it was a ‘spacecraft and not a missile’. “As we understand, this was a routine test of spacecraft to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability. It is of great significance to reducing the cost of using spacecraft and providing a convenient and cheap way for mankind’s two-way transportation in the peaceful use of space. Several companies around the world have conducted similar tests. It’s not a missile, but a spacecraft,” Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, was quoted as saying by news agencies earlier last month.
The Pentagon earlier this month said that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and may have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of the decade.