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China Confirms Hypersonic Missile Delivery Test

FILE - An undated photo shows a Chinese C-802 naval missile.
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.

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.

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

The test was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, which quoted U.S. officials who said the vehicle flew at Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound.

Experts said 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, said hypersonic technology is still in the development stage, but could be ready in five to 10 years.

Vick told VOA that it is difficult to track, detect, and intercept hypersonic vehicles, because they do not fly as high as ballistic missiles.

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

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

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, said Wednesday that he was not particularly concerned about the Chinese test, but also acknowledged it is indicative of 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.

Brad Glosserman of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum told VOA he views the Chinese test as a reaction to U.S. defense capabilities viewed by Beijing as a threat.

"They're hedging against America making great strides that might undermine Chinese security. I think what the Chinese are basically saying is, 'You cannot outpace us,'" said Glosserman.

Other analysts have pointed out that the move is reflective of China's desire to expand its influence around the globe; such a weapon would not likely be needed in a defense of its own territory.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.