Will China's new supersonic warhead bust US missile shield?
The testing of the ICBM hypersonic warhead is the first practical achievement of a large-scale programme to create hypersonic weapons, a programme that China is translating into life. China has been engaged in developing hypersonic cruise vehicles for several years. In July 2012, the Chinese media reported the commissioning in China of a unique high-speed wind tunnel capable of testing model aircraft at speeds of up to Mach 9. Now China has reported the flight test of a hypersonic cruise vehicle. The basic questions that arise in this context are how the new technology will influence the Chinese nuclear strategy and what other hypersonic weapon projects China is carrying out.
Russia first said it had successfully tested a hypersonic warhead in 2005 to add to stability of its strategic nuclear forces in the face of the US missile defence system. Signs are Russia was the first to obtain a deployable warhead of this kind. China is several years behind, but following the Russian road.
But China's recent test shows that Beijing may deploy its ICBMs with hypersonic warheads in the foreseeable future. None of the existing missile defence systems can bring down a hypersonic glide vehicle, so once China starts deploying such warheads, it will boost the reliability of its nuclear forces.
The development of the hypersonic warhead may be related to the building of China's new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile in an effort that became known last year. Hypersonic warheads are heavier than their predecessors, so their use calls for the creation of a new more powerful missile.
It is safe to assume that the People's Republic of China is following Russia's and US suit and will not limit itself to the development of hypersonic technologies in the interests of its strategic nuclear triad. The United States is known to consider the use of its non-nuclear hypersonic weapons in the future Prompt Global Strike systems. Russia is also engaged in manufacturing non-nuclear hypersonic weapons.
Once China gets its non-nuclear hypersonic weapons, it will be in a position to much more effectively counter the US carrier strike forces. China is making progress in manufacturing very powerful high-speed missiles to kill enemy aircraft-carriers, one such missile being the DF-21D anti-ship missile, which China has already made. The moment China obtains a more manoeuvrable hypersonic cruise missile to attack carrier forces, the aircraft-carrier defence system is dead, and the concept of world fleet development should be revised.
In the 21st century, hypersonic weapons will prove an indispensable appanage of a military superpower that China is turning into before our very eyes. Still, there is quite a way to go from the first tests to the actual deployment of new weapon systems, so we will hardly see the results of the efforts in question before 2020.