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Hypersonic missile race heats up as China launches test

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DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 26: In what is being seen as a leap in the missile technology race between super powers, China successfully launched a missile from a hypersonic glide vehicle that can exceed five times the speeds of sound. The test puts China ahead of the United States and Russia in the hypersonic race that the countries have been experimenting with for years.

Hypersonic missiles have been a technological mirage, with many experts placing the technology much further in the future. The allure of hypersonic missiles has been their unconventional trajectory and easy manoeuvrability that makes it hard for defence systems to detect them. 

China’s recent test launched a missile from a hypersonic launch vehicle that can stay in low earth orbit, making it capable of hitting any target across all continents. “The Chinese appear to have mastered the thermic and aerodynamic shock effects linked to hypersonic speed….[which requires] huge computing capacity,” Joseph Henrotin, defence strategy researcher and chief editor of DSI, a French military review, told AFP.

The details of the tests remain unclear, with many analysts wondering about the missile’s accuracy and precision, some even skeptical of the existence of a target. Nonetheless, Niklas Swanström, director of the Institute for Security and Development in Stockholm, acknowledged that the demonstration of such capability shows the technological and scientific leap China has made. He told AFP that “the US is far ahead of China in terms of overall military technology.”

Although the reports of the launch are credible, US defence officials could be exaggerating the threat of such missiles in order to secure more money for their weaponry. James Char, an expert on the Chinese military at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University said, “the US military leadership has been playing up the Chinese military threat in recent years, so this may well be another example of its officials trying to seek a bigger defence budget going forward,” reports Channel News Asia

US’s general Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, called China’s hypersonic missile test a “Sputnik moment”. The Pentagon on November 19 announced Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon as official contractors to develop a concept design for a new Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI), which will be a next-gen missile system capable of defending the US against hypersonic missiles. 

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