(NationalSecurity.news) The Chinese military recently conducted its fifth test of a hypersonic glide vehicle that is being developed as a platform capable of defeating current U.S. missile defenses, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
What makes the vehicle hard to track and kill is its ability to travel at ultra-high speeds, delivering nuclear weapons on target before missile defenses can react.
The latest test of what the Pentagon is calling the Wu-14 took place at the Wuzhai missile test range in central China, WFB reported. Officials who spoke with the news site said the test was judged to have been successful.
In addition, officials said the glide vehicle – which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere – also featured new capabilities during the most recent test, the ability to conduct evasive actions, which would make it even more difficult to defeat.
The WFB reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have tracked the progress of the Wu-14 for more than a year and during that time have learned a great deal about the weapon system.
Officials believe the evasive capabilities were added to the vehicle specifically as a countermeasure to U.S. missile defense capabilities.
The weapon is launched as a final stage of a missile that can attain speeds of Mach 10, or about 10 times the speed of sound – somewhere around 7,700 miles per hour. Military analysts told the WFB they believe that the ramped up test schedule indicates China is close to deploying what it considers to be a high-priority weapon system.
Additional tests took place June 7 of this year and Jan. 6, Aug. 7 and Dec. 2 of last year, according to the Free Beacon.
The Pentagon was mum on the latest glide vehicle test.
“We do not comment on PRC weapons tests but we do monitor Chinese military modernization carefully,” Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban told the WFB.
One senior U.S. defense official, however, said the Pentagon considered China’s hypersonic glide vehicle as a serious threat to the Defense Department’s efforts to maintain nuclear deterrence.
Other experts were equally concerned about the weapon system.
“The advent of a Chinese hypersonic weapon may pose the greatest early threat to large U.S. Navy ships,” Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the WFB. “The best prospect for a defensive response would be to greatly accelerate railgun development.”
The Navy is currently developing an electromagnetic railgun, a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity rather than gunpowder. Navy officials say the railgun has a range of about 100 miles and can be used for air defense as well as firing in support of ground forces. You can see a video of the railgun in action here.
The United States and Russia are also working to develop hypersonic glide vehicles. Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told The National Interest in August that they believe the Washington and Moscow are much closer to fielding hypersonic glide vehicles than China.
“China has hypersonic technology, but is mostly working on boost-glide weapons that are essentially ballistic missiles with a hypersonic missile as the warhead. These will be too large and costly to be an operationally useful weapon system that is used in significant numbers. The United States and Russia are also working on air-launched hypersonic weapons that are smaller, less expensive and more operationally relevant,” they said.