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US intelligence officers have reportedly been caught off guard after China tested out new space capabilities with a hypersonic missile.
According to a new report, the missile demonstrated an ‘advanced space capability’, circling the planet at a low-orbit speed, before cruising towards its target, which it missed by approximately two dozen miles.
This is according to five people who were briefed on the intelligence, two of whom stated that the test demonstrates significant progress made by China in the field of hypersonic weapons. It has been claimed that the country’s capabilities are much more advanced than had previously been understood by US officials.
Two of those with understanding of the test reportedly claimed that the missile could, theoretically, speed over the South Pole, the Financial Times reports. If this is indeed the case, then it could pose a new challenge for the US military, whose missiles defence systems are primarily focused on the northern sea route.
Chinese nuclear weapons policy expert Professor Taylor Fravel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said a hypersonic glide vehicle fitted with a nuclear warhead may help China ‘negate’ US defence systems set up to demolish incoming ballistic missiles.
Fravel, who hadn’t been aware of the Chinese test, said:
Hypersonic glide vehicles… fly at lower trajectories and can manoeuvre in flight, which makes them hard to track and destroy.
According to Fravel, it could prove ‘destabilising’ if China was to fully develop and deploy this sort of missile. However, he proceeded to caution that a test did not automatically mean China would actually deploy this capability.
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