The sixth flight test of the DZ-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle was declared a success on Monday, moving China closer to possessing a global strike capability.
China is working on the ultra-fast maneuverable strike weapon, which will be able to penetrate existing missile defense systems, writes Bill Gertz for The Washington Free Beacon. The glide vehicle was launched on top of a ballistic missile from the Wuzhai missile test center in Central China, according to defense officials.
Hypersonic vehicle could deliver nuclear or conventional warheads
After detaching from the launcher near the edge of space, the vehicle glided to an impact site several thousand miles away. U.S. intelligence agencies tracked the flight, during which the vehicle reach speeds of over five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment. “We do not comment on specific PRC weapons tests, but we do monitor Chinese military modernization carefully,” he said.
Beijing appears to be placing a high priority on developing the vehicle, which has been tested 6 times since last year. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that the DZ-ZF is a nuclear delivery vehicle that boasts such maneuverability at high speeds that it would dodge existing missile defense systems.
Military specialists also think that the DZ-ZF could be used to deliver conventional weapons around the globe. It travels at between Mach 5 and Mach 10, or 3,836 miles per hour and 7,680 miles per hour.
Chinese research projects worrying for U.S. officials
Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, expressed his worries over hypersonic glide vehicles last year. The annual report of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission states that China’s research into hypersonic weapons is “progressing rapidly.”
The report says that the DZ-ZF could be ready by 2020, and a ramjet-propelled cruise missile by 2025. It is thought that China would use nuclear-armed hypersonic vehicles in its retaliatory strike capabilities, while conventional warheads could be delivered over long-distances.
Air Force Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, former deputy commander of Strategic Command, said that hypersonic missiles offer a number of advantages. “It offers a number of different ways to overcome defenses, whether those are conventional, or if someone would decide to use a nuclear warhead, I think gives it an even more complicated dimension,” Kowalski said.
At this time only China, the United States and Russia are working on hypersonic weapons. Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said that Beijing may be working on a conventional global attack capability much like the Prompt Global Strike program that is being developed by the U.S.
China close to having global strike capability
Fisher claims that China’s new Kuaizhou-2 launcher could be used in conjunction with Beijing’s anti-satellite missiles in addition to boosting the DZ-ZF to intercontinental range. At the same time China is developing surveillance satellites that will enable it to use precision global strike weapons.
By 2030 China will have around 138 satellites in space, which “means that an intercontinental [Prompt Global Strike] launched from China against U.S. targets could benefit from multiple target location updates,” Fisher said.
China maintains a veil of secrecy around its military technology programs and has refused to negotiate limits on strategic weapons, raising fears in Washington. Some are calling for the U.S. to push ahead with developing its own Prompt Global Strike capability in order to compete with China.
Relations between the two nations are becoming increasingly strained due to various geopolitical factors, and the development of hypersonic weapons could give one nation the edge over the other.