China secretly tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which orbited the globe before returning to Earth to strike its target in a technological development that would overcome US anti-ballistic missile systems.
A report from the Financial Times, which cited five unnamed intelligence sources, said the Chinese military launched the Long March rocket in August carrying a ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ into low orbit.
It circled the globe before descending towards its target, which it missed by about two dozen miles.
The hypersonic missiles can reach speeds of up to 21,000mph and can strike anywhere on Earth from space within minutes.
The system would be able to overcome US anti-ballistic missile defence systems that are based in Alaska and set up to shoot down projectiles coming over the North Pole – the Chinese system would be able to strike the US from the south.
The incident has left US intelligence officials stunned, sources say, as it shows ‘China has made astonishing progress on the development of its hypersonic weapons’.
‘We have no idea how they did this,’ a person familiar with the test told the FT.
This is the latest development in a terrifying arms race taking place in Asia as tensions between China and Taiwan continue to grow.
Along with China, the United States, Russia and at least five other countries are working on hypersonic technology, and last month North Korea said it had test-fired a newly-developed hypersonic missile.
Ballistic missiles fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories at higher speeds. Hypersonic weapons are difficult to defend against because they fly towards targets at lower altitudes but can achieve more than five times the speed of sound – or about 6,200 km per hour (3,850 mph).
The Pentagon did not comment on China’s testing of the hypersonic missile, but did acknowledge China as their ‘number one pacing challenge’.
‘We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,’ John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Fox News. ‘That is one reason why we hold China as our number one pacing challenge.’