|A 'Long March' rocket was used to launch the new hypersonic glide vehicle, which is pictured above carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar mission for their space program. (Credit:Getty Images/Via: FT)|
In August, China allegedly conducted a near-orbital test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, intensifying the race for the next generation of long-range weapons that are tougher to detect and intercept.
In recent months, the US and Russia have undertaken hypersonic weapon tests, and North Korea announced last month that it had successfully launched a newly designed hypersonic missile.
Functioning of the Missile
In the upper atmosphere, hypersonic missiles move at more than five times the speed of sound, or roughly 6,200 kilometres per hour (3,850 mph). A hypersonic glide vehicle is slower than an intercontinental ballistic missile, but its form allows it to move toward a target or away from defences.
A fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) combines a glide vehicle with a missile that may send it partially into orbit, robbing enemies of response time and standard defence systems.
Nuclear weapons are carried on ballistic trajectories that fly into space but never reach orbit by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
During the Cold War, both the US and the USSR investigated FOBS, with the USSR deploying one in the 1970s. By the mid-80s, it had been retired from service. Many of the advantages of FOBS, such as reduced detection periods and the inability to predict where an attack would come from, were regarded as less destabilizing by submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Who Is the Winner of the Race?
China fired a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle into orbit on Saturday, circled the globe before flying down to its target, which it missed by around two dozen miles, according to the Financial Times.
President Vladimir Putin promoted the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile as part of a new generation of missile weapons after it was successfully tested in July. For the first time, Moscow tested the missile from a submarine.
The US said in late September that it had successfully tested an air-breathing hypersonic weapon, which can fly through the atmosphere on its own like a cruise missile, marking the first successful test of that type of weapon since 2013.
North Korea launched a newly built hypersonic missile days after the US declaration, declaring it a "strategic weapon" that bolstered its defence capabilities, while some South Korean analysts classified the test as a failure.
Why Does It Matter?
The recent tests are part of a hazardous arms race in which smaller Asian countries compete with larger military powers to build sophisticated long-range missiles.
Hypersonic weapons, such as FOBS, might pose a threat since they can elude missile defences and early warning systems.
Some analysts warned against exaggerating the capabilities of missiles like the one that China launched in August.
"China already possesses 100 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States," claimed Jeffrey Lewis, a missile specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the United States, in response to the FT story on Twitter.