China’s Defense Ministry this week confirmed a report by published in the Washington Free Beacon of the successful test flight of a new hypersonic glide vehicle conducted on Jan. 9. The term hypersonic generally refers speeds between 5 and 10 times the speed of sound, 7,680 miles per hour.
The U.S., China, India and Russia have all conducted research on hypersonic missiles in order to pierce defensive systems not built to intercept such fast moving objects.
U.S. missile defenses are designed to counter hypersonic targets, namely ballistic missile warheads. What is different about the Chinese hypersonic vehicle is that its trajectory does not enter space, making it far more difficult to detect, track, and intercept.
Following reports of the test, three members of the House Armed Services Committee, Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (CA), Rep. Randy Forbes (VA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (AL), issued a joint statement slamming the level of defense budget cuts that Congress has approved.
“While round after round of defense cuts have knocked America’s technological advantage on its back, the Chinese and other competitor nations push towards military parity with the United States; in some cases, as in this one, they appear to be leaping ahead of us.”
“This situation does nothing to support peaceful coexistence in the Pacific. We have dithered for three decades now, delaying badly needed replacement equipment for our troops, relying on hardware that was built during the Reagan years.”
“The Asia Pacific is fast becoming a powder keg. Allowing nations that do not share our respect for free and open avenues of commerce to gain a strategic advantage over the United States and her allies only brings us closer to lighting the fuse.”
The U.S. has been involved in research into hypersonic flight for some time. The most recent publicly acknowledged and discussed effort is the “Falcon Project” (Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States), a joint undertaking between the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force. One part of the program aims to develop a reusable, rapid-strike hypersonic weapon system known as a Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV). Another is for the development of a launch system capable of accelerating an HCV to cruise speeds, as well as launching small satellites into earth orbit.
Current efforts include the Lockheed HTV-2 (Hypersonic Technology Vehicle -2), an unmanned, missile-launched aircraft capable of gaining speeds of up to Mach 20, or 13,000 miles per hour.
Additionally, in November of last year DARPA released a formal solicitation (DARPA-BAA-14-01) for the initial phase of the XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane project to design a reusable spacecraft to support not only next-generation launch for government and commercial satellites, but also global-reach hypersonic and space-access aircraft.
As noted in the statement from the House Armed Services Committee above, properly funding the project is an issue.