China, wielding a hypersonic missile traveling at over five times the speed of sound and capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, is a significant threat to the U.S. What is worse, we’ve known that China has increased its defense budget year-over-year and that Beijing has been working on such a missile. Yet, according to Reuters, the August 2021 People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) launch of the new and more capable missile came as a surprise to U.S. intelligence analysts. In addition, Liberty Nation has provided numerous reports on the threat that China poses both as a military adversary and a global economic competitor.
For some time, America has known the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was diligently working on hypersonic weapons. When the Trump administration took office in 2017, President Trump selected Dr. Mike Griffin to be his Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Griffin expressed concern that China was well ahead of the U.S. in hypersonic weapon systems.
Consequently, Griffin made research and development of such weapons his highest research priority. First revealed in Financial Times and later in Reuters, the latest reports said:
“China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August, showing a capability that caught US intelligence by surprise, the Financial Times reported, citing five unnamed sources. The report late on Saturday said the Chinese military launched a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle that flew through low-orbit space, circling the globe before cruising towards its target, which it missed by about two dozen miles. ‘The test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realized,’ the report said, citing people briefed on the intelligence.”
Okay, so they missed their target by 24 miles. But consider this: Washington, D.C. is 68.3 miles across. So, if nuclear intimidation is the game, a couple of dozen miles is close enough.
Consequently, what makes China’s missile technology breakthrough so very troubling is that, presumably, Beijing is on a track to develop a nuclear-capable missile that can strike anywhere on the globe from space. As reported by Jen Judson for Defense News, Frank Kendall, the new Secretary of the Air Force, “told reporters last month at the US Air Force Association’s annual conference that China can conduct global strikes from space.” To add to the challenge of missiles coming from space at hypersonic speeds. Judson goes on to explain:
“Based on news reports, the Chinese appear to have combined a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS, with a hypersonic weapon. ‘The combination of those two technologies creates two problems for our detection and tracking capabilities,’ Patty-Jane Geller, a policy analyst for nuclear deterrence and missile defense at the Heritage Foundation, told Defense News. The first is that the US can detect most large rocket and missile launches but might not be able to track a glide vehicle throughout its entire orbit or even see the Chinese orbital system is armed with something like a nuclear hypersonic weapon, she said.”
To put the challenge in perspective, the U.S. is very good at tracking objects launched into space, such as rockets and satellites. The problem is a hypersonic missile launched into space taking up a low-Earth orbit looks very similar to a rocket placing a satellite into a similar trajectory. At some point at an adversary’s choosing, the missile comes out of orbit. It becomes a missile heading for its target at extremely high speed with the ability to maneuver to avoid missile defense shields. Identifying, targeting, tracking, and destroying the missile before it can detonate over its intended target is a challenge.
On this point, according to The Epoch Times in a report that falls way short of optimistic, Andrew Thornebrooke wrote:
“US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said that Washington is concerned about China’s possible deployment of hypersonic weaponry and said the United States hadn’t developed a means of countering it. ‘Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about, the potential military applications of it and we have held back from pursuing, we had held back from pursuing military applications for this technology,’ Wood said at a press meeting in Geneva on Oct. 18.”
Wood went on to provide a slight upside to China’s testing the new technology by saying that, though the U.S. is not capable at this time to defend against such hypersonic missiles, neither are Russia and China.
To have a chance of defending against a breakthrough technology is knowing what to protect against. So the fact that China planned, designed, developed, and bench-tested the mission avionics, but it wasn’t until the missile was tested that the U.S. intelligence community knew about its existence is more than a little troubling.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s approximate annual budget of $50 billion and its vast array of technical means are not focused on the right things, obviously. China’s launch of a heretofore unknown missile should be a Sputnik moment for America. So let this be a wake-up call for the entire national security apparatus to up its game.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.