China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, conducted its first test of a “hypersonic glide vehicle,” a new weapon fast enough to deliver warheads past U.S. missile defenses.
The test, conducted on Jan. 9, was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon on Jan. 13 and confirmed by China’s Ministry of National Defense on Thursday. However, China denied initial reports that the weapon was designed with the purpose of penetrating U.S. missile defenses.
The hypersonic glide vehicle was launched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile and released about 62 miles into the air. The speed test clocked the hypersonic glider zooming along at roughly 10 times the speed of sound.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that the Pentagon has named the weapon WU-14, though its sources were kept anonymous.
Hypersonic vehicles are capable of flying and maneuvering at speeds between 3,840 miles per hour (Mach 5) and 7,680 miles per hour (Mach 10). If a hypersonic vehicle were to be equipped with a warhead, it would be difficult to detect, track and intercept by existing defenses.
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The U.S. is developing its own hypersonic capabilities. Since 2004, the Air Force has worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on a $300 million hypersonic program. The result is the X-51 Waverider scramjet vehicle, a hypersonic vehicle that finished its final test in May 2013.
The U.S. also tested the Lockheed HTV-2, an unmanned hypersonic vehicle that reached speeds of 13,000 mph before it lost control and crashed.
Russia is also developing hypersonic weapons. It has tested its RS-26, a “missile defense killer,” with dummy warheads.
In addition to military applications, scientists hope hypersonic vehicles will be the future of travel, and even pave the way for space travel.