‘We have no idea how they did this’ – fears over China’s ‘game-changer’ hypersonic missile

China’s test of a hypersonic missile in space is a “game-changer” that should fundamentally alter the US’s calculations about Beijing’s military leverage, experts have warned.

ver the weekend, it emerged that the Chinese military in August secretly launched a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle into space, which flew around the globe in a low-Earth orbit before returning to China.

While the missile reportedly missed its target by about two dozen miles, the test shows China has made rapid progress on the lightning-fast weapons and is far more advanced than US intelligence had realised, according to the Financial Times, which broke the story.

“We have no idea how they did this,” the FT quoted one official as saying.

Countries including the US, UK, Russia and North Korea have all been working on developing hypersonic missiles, which have the advantages of fast flight – travelling at five times the speed of sound or more – and increased manoeuvrability.

They also fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, meaning they can potentially reach targets faster. Drew Thompson, a former American defence department official with responsibility for China, said the test “really should change US calculations”.

“I think it is a game changer in a way that little else has really shifted the balance. Once it works, once it’s credible, it negates US missile defences and it makes the US vulnerable,” said Mr Thompson. China’s ministry of defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Liu Pengyu, the spokesman at China’s embassy in Washington, told the FT that China always pursued a military policy that was “defensive in nature” and that its military development did not target any country.

“We don’t have a global strategy and plans of military operations like the US does. And we are not at all interested in having an arms race with other countries,” Mr Liu said. The US has recently pivoted its defence and intelligence operations to focus more on China.

Earlier this month, the CIA announced the creation of a new China Mission Center that would bring more resources to studying the country.

John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman told the FT he would not comment on the specifics of the report but added: “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue.”

There is also an increased international emphasis on combating China’s growing military might.

Last month, the US, UK and Australia announced a new international security alliance, dubbed AUKUS.

Frank Kendall, the US air force secretary, warned that Beijing had made huge advances in hypersonic weapons, including the “potential for global strikes… from space”.

He suggested China was developing something along the lines of the USSR’s Soviet-era Fractional Orbital Bombardment System.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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