There has been a race to develop hypersonic weapons by three world super powers—the U.S., China and Russia. Although it’s a difficult technology to master, China has succeeded in launching its first hypersonic missile, in August. The nuclear missile orbited around the world and then sped to its target. This advanced capability in space surprised U.S. intelligence.
Five people familiar with the matter spoke to The Financial Times. Three of them, who were briefed on the intelligence, said that the missile missed its target by roughly 24 miles. However, two others believed that the hypersonic missile launch showcased the huge progress made by Beijing on hypersonic technology. They said that the U.S. officials had been unaware of the huge, forward strides made by the Chinese on hypersonic weapons.
In case you wondered about the importance of these missiles, considering that the nation has huge stockpiles of weapons, hypersonic missiles are a class apart. These missiles are launched to space on a rocket. They orbit around the earth using their own momentum. They fly at five times the speed of sound. However, they do not follow a fixed parabolic trajectory like a traditional ballistic missile.
Hypersonic missiles are can be manoeuvrable and are difficult to track. So, they can negate US missile defense systems that have been developed with capabilities to destroy incoming ballistic missiles, one such system being the much touted Iron Dome.
In July, Russia had also said that it had successfully tested a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile. Some Western experts wondered on how advanced the weapon was but also accepted that it was difficult to track such weapons, so Russia’s claim could not verified.
The Pentagon has increased its defense allocations for hypersonic weapons. In September, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said that it had successfully tested an air-breathing hypersonic weapon. It reached speeds five times faster than the speed of sound.
All three super powers are developing these hypersonic weapons that are capable of much more damages than conventional nuclear missiles which could also be extremely destructive and catastrophic if deployed.