China's military last week launched the first test flight of an ultra-high speed missile vehicle intended to deliver warheads that could get through U.S. missile defenses.
According to unnamed Pentagon officials, the test of the new hypersonic glide vehicle, also known as WU-14, was carried out on Jan. 9 and marks a major advancement in China's secret missile programs, The Washington Free Beacon
The Pentagon has confirmed the test, but declined to give further details.
"We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, a spokesman, told the Free Beacon.
"However, we don't comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems. We encourage greater transparency [by China] regarding their defense investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation," he added.
The weapon appears to have been designed to be launched on one of China's intercontinental ballistic missiles which then moves at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound near space on its way to its target.
Hypersonic weapons use cutting edge technology and could mark an advantage for China to compensate for its overall weaker military, challenging the current capabilities of U.S. missile defenses.
"With 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," Lora Saalman, a specialist on Chinese strategic systems with the Carnegie Endowment, told The Washington Times.
"This recent test is a manifestation of this trend," she said. And in a recent speech, Saalman said that hypersonics and precision guidance "are growth areas within China in terms of what they are intending to do with their military," the Times reports.
The United States has its own hypersonic program, and Russia recently admitted that it, too, was developing hypersonic weapons. Experts predict it will be the next chapter in the international arms race, akin to the development in the 1950s of atomic weapons.
"If there is a great power war in this century, it will not begin with the sound of explosions on the ground and in the sky, but rather with the bursting of kinetic energy and the flashing of laser light in the silence of outer space," Ian Easton, a researcher, said in a report published by the Project 2049 Institute, according to the Times.
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