China Tested Hypersonic Glide Vehicle System That Took US Intelligence By Surprise

Faye Higbee
hypersonic glide vehicle

“We have no idea how they did that” was the response of some US intelligence officials to the news that in August, China tested a hypersonic glide vehicle system – a nuclear capable hypersonic weapon. And our intelligence services were reportedly taken by surprise because they didn’t think China possessed that capability. The article first appeared in The Financial Times.  China denies the whole thing, but failed to disclose the test. It disclosed the prior (76) and later tests (78), but not this one (77). Hmmm.

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Not to mention some political officials have no idea how we will defend against it, given the Biden Administration’s penchant for worrying about “white rage,” diversity, and vaccinations instead of focusing on the enemy. The budgets for social programs went out the roof, but the military budget is not being expanded, and Democrats are pushing to dump the US Space Force. How convenient for China.

“But we have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarization of this technology, so we are just having to respond in kind … We just don’t know how we can defend against that technology. Neither does China, neither does Russia.”

U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood- The Epoch Times

Hypersonic Glide Vehicle

Screenshot via The Financial Times

In clear terms that us non-weapons analysts can understand, the hypersonic glide vehicle was launched by a Long March 2C rocket. It reportedly circled the earth as if in orbit, then plunged through the atmosphere towards its target – which it missed by a mere couple of dozen miles. Twenty-four miles wouldn’t matter much if the hypersonic glide vehicle can evade missile defense systems and strike from anywhere from which we aren’t aware. The glide vehicle is maneuverable and has enormous amounts of kinetic energy that would be difficult to stop.

Rule #1: Never underestimate your enemy. The warnings have been there for some time.

“The military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies. With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response.”

Admiral Philip Davidson, head of Indo-Pacific command, March 2021

In June, it was reported by Fox that China was building at least 119 more missile silos. The idea was rumored to be upgrading their nuclear capability from 250 weapons to 350. However, if the intelligence community missed on the TYPE of missile, bad things could happen and happen rapidly. China said the August test was “just a spaceship” that could be reused. Do you believe them? We do not.

The hypersonic glide vehicle system and a FOBS (Fractional Orbital Bombardment System)

The maneuvering hypersonic glide vehicle, descending from high-altitude at extreme speed, could travel thousands of miles to its target, which can be totally offset from a normal ballistic track. Complicating things more, these systems can attack from the south pole, not just the north where most of America’s ballistic missile early warning, tracking, and defensive apparatus is focused. Intercepting such a system would also be very challenging, especially considering U.S. mid-course intercept capabilities are focused on traditional ballistic missile flight profiles, which fly more of a parabolic trajectory and have generally known ranges of each stage of flight. 

With a glide vehicle end-game delivery system paired with a FOBS, its vehicles can enter the atmosphere beyond the range of an interceptor’s exo-atmospheric mid-course kill envelope, with the glide vehicle weaving its way through the atmosphere to its final target. Traditional surface-based radar systems’ line of sight is also significantly reduced as the hypersonic glide vehicle travels in the atmosphere. Paired with the extreme speeds involved, this can make these systems nearly useless at providing any details regarding the impending attack. 

Hypersonic glide vehicles themselves are also very tough to kill with no real defense against them available at this time. Elaborate defensive concepts are in the works, but their effectiveness will depend on just how fast these vehicles are traveling, their maneuverability, density in numbers, what third-party sensors are available to help in generating an engagement solution, and more. A hypersonic glide vehicle with the kinetic energy in its favor from an orbital-like delivery would likely be the very hardest to kill.

The Drive

In short, such a system would allow China to attack anywhere on the planet, with very little warning and near impunity. Welcome to the new Arms Race.


Featured photo: Screenshot via Twitter (The Drive)

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