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China Tests Hypersonic Vehicle that Fires Missiles and Can Carry Nuclear Warheads

China Tests Hypersonic Vehicle that Fires Missiles and Can Carry Nuclear Warheads

By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo
December 22, 2021

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China is conducting tests with a vehicle that reaches five times the speed of sound and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and firing missiles. The Financial Times first reported the information in October 2021, although the tests were conducted on July 27 and August 13. According to the British daily, this technology, from China, has never been tested by any other country to date.

“That’s a very significant capability that has the potential to change a lot of things, so we have to be very concerned about that,” U.S. Air Force General (ret.) John Hyten, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with CBS News in November.

Gen. Hyten described that in one of the tests, the hypersonic vehicle went around the world and fired a missile toward a target in the South China Sea. The vehicle tested by China is a glider that can be maneuvered while airborne. Due to its speed and the fact that it travels in orbit very close to Earth, the vehicle is difficult to detect by current radars.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied reports of hypersonic weapon tests and said it was a space vehicle undergoing routine tests to verify the reusability of its technology.

The international community questioned China’s statement. “We have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, militarization of this technology,” Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament, told a group of journalists in Geneva, Reuters reported on October 18.

News of the hypersonic technology test is further proof of China’s expanding military power. In July 2021, studies by the Federation of American Scientists and the U.S.-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies pointed to the construction of new silos or tanks in the middle of two desert regions of China. These structures are commonly used to house intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Based on satellite images, scientists estimate that, together, the silos would have the capacity to store some 230 ICBMs.

In October, 150 Chinese military aircraft, including some with nuclear capability, invaded an airspace considered by Taiwan to be a national defense zone, which raised suspicions that China was preparing to invade the island, which the Chinese consider to be rebellious. “We remain concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risk miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on October 4.