Stop Poking the Dragon! China's Hypersonic Missiles Can Reach US & UK in Blink of Eye, Netizens Say
China's reported test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August 2021 has caught the US intelligence and military off guard, according to the Financial Times. The report has prompted awe and ire among social media users, scholars, and journalists.
Citing five individuals with knowledge of the test, the Financial Times wrote on 16 October that the Chinese military had launched a Long March rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle
. Although such launches are usually announced, the August test was kept under wraps, FT claimed. The hypersonic missile circled the earth at low orbit before descending toward its target.
Although the Chinese weapon missed by about two dozen miles, the report admitted that "the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised".
Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Defence has not commented on the issue so far. For his part, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in London, asserted to the press that the People's Republic's military policy is "defensive in nature".
13 October 2021, 12:00 GMT
'This Changes Everything'
The alleged trial of China's hypersonic missile prompted a heated debate on social media, with netizens wondering whether the Pentagon will adjust its nuclear planning in the aftermath of the FT's bombshell report.
"This is concerning", tweeted a user named OSINTtechnical. "If China has a deployable strategic level hypersonic weapon, nuclear planning changes a lot. Hypersonic missiles aren’t just hard to shoot down, they are hard to detect".
As the US and UK have recently ramped up muscle flexing in the South China Sea in an apparent bid to "deter" China, Twitter users warned Washington and London against teasing the Dragon.
"It's worth noting that the Chinese Orbital Hypersonic Missile development means the UK is not geographically invulnerable in a conflict scenario with China", tweeted
British political and international relations analyst Tom Fowdy. "It might want to rethink the assumption it can just prod at China in the Pacific from a distance..."
"This changes everything…" echoed investigative journalist Peter Cronau, former producer for ABC TV's "Four Corners" programme. "UK & USA had better back off their warmongering against China, cos now Beijing has developed a hypersonic nuclear missile that can reach London & Washington in a blink of an eye".
Other netizens raised the question as to why the US has underestimated China's capabilities for so long: "Any objective assessment of Chinese skill in science and tech would lead to US admitting it can’t keep up, so it lies to itself", suggested
Richard Hanania, a research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.
"IQ by population distribution and population size tells you China has more geniuses than anywhere else in human history", tweeted
US political commentator Mike Cernovich. "They don’t [play] woke games. NASA can’t even get back to the moon cuz priorities. Anyone surprised by [the test] doesn’t understand anything".
5 January 2021, 12:40 GMT
US Knew That China's Hypersonic Wonder-Weapon Was Coming
Not that Washington was completely unaware of China developing hypersonic weapons: on 1 October 2019, Beijing demonstrated its hypersonic missile Dongfeng-17, or DF-17 during the parade marking the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule. At the time, The Wall Street Journal reported
that the weapon "is thought to be China’s first operational missile mounted with a hypersonic glide vehicle… capable of flying at more than five times the speed of sound".
The media outlet specified that once launched, the missile would release a hypersonic glide vehicle "that can cruise at relatively low altitude and speeds above Mach 5, or about 3,400 miles an hour, changing direction if needed". The WSJ quoted Sam Roggeveen, director of the International Security Programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, as saying that there is "nothing like it in any Western military force".
"China is now, in some spheres of military technology, ahead of any Western nation", Roggeveen claimed.
Just hours after the parade, Randall G. Schriver, assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told an audience at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, as cited
by The Washington Times: "We’re no longer in a period of overwhelming American dominance but rather one in which our armed forces are adapting to fight against near-peer competitors who are fielding increasingly sophisticated capabilities".
The WSJ noted in 2019 that the Pentagon had identified hypersonic missiles and systems to intercept them as among its highest priorities, adding that the Lockheed Martin Corp. was expected to step up test flights of its first prototype hypersonic missiles with potential production in 2020.
Lockheed Martin's hypersonic AGM-183A ARRW ("Arrow") underwent an initial flight test in June 2019. On 27 May 2021, the defence contractor "successfully conducted
a significant live fire hypersonic strike system test" of a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB). Several months later, on 4 October 2021, Lockheed Martin opened
a hypersonic weapons factory in Courtland, Alabama.
For its part, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) carried out a free flight test of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) on 27 September 2021.
However, the crux of the matter is that the price tag of American hypersonic arms bites. The US Department of Defence (DoD) says that hypersonic missiles are "too expensive" and urges US defence contractors to cut the ultimate cost of the weapon.
"We need to figure out how to drive towards more affordable hypersonics", Under Secretary of Defence for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu told reporters earlier this week.
Some US advanced weapons, such as Lockheed Martin's F-35 multirole fighter jet, do have a record of being excessively expensive
Although the Pentagon has not commented on the reported Chinese missile test, it appears to be seriously concerned with the pace of the development of China's hypersonic missile project. Speaking to the FT, Defence Department spokesman John Kirby stated that the DoD holds the People's Republic as its "number one pacing challenge".