U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) spokesman Paul Freisthler told the House Armed Services Committee on March 10: “While China and Russia have conducted many successful tests of ‘hypersonic weapons, deployed their operating systems, China is ahead of Russia in terms of infrastructure support and the number of systems,’ said the chief scientist for science and technology of the Defense Intelligence Agency to US lawmakers.
“Over the past two decades, China has made significant progress in developing conventional and nuclear warhead hypersonic missile technology and capabilities through intensive and targeted investment, development, testing and deployment,” said Paul Freistler.
Unlike ballistic missiles which, despite reaching hypersonic speeds, travel along a given trajectory, hypersonic weapons are highly maneuverable, despite flying at five MAX (five speeds of sound).
This high-speed maneuverability makes hypersonic weapons particularly difficult to detect, according to US Department of Defense officials. China has two hypersonic weapons research centers with at least 21 wind tunnels, according to the DIA and the Congressional Research Service. In some wind tunnels, aircraft can be tested at speeds up to Mach 12.
China’s hypersonic arsenal includes the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide warhead, which has a range of 1,600 kilometers, and the DF-41 ICBM, which also carries a hypersonic glide warhead. During a test of the system in July 2021, a hypersonic missile circled the globe, prompting a senior US Department of Defense official to compare the fact to the start of the original space race in the 1950s.
Beijing also has a DF-ZF hypersonic glider vehicle with a range of around 2,000 kilometers and a Starry Sky-2 hypersonic prototype capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Russia also has the Avangard hypersonic gliding vehicle, which Moscow says can reach speeds in excess of Mach 20 with a range of over 10,000 kilometers, and the ship-launched hypersonic Zirkon missile with a top speed of Mach 8 and a range of 1,000 kilometers. .
Russia’s missile attack on Ukraine on March 10 included about six air-launched Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, which reach speeds of up to Mach 10 and have a range of about 2,000 kilometers.
Paul Freistler also reported that Moscow was developing the Kh-95 hypersonic air-launched missile and announced plans to put a hypersonic hover vehicle in its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.
The US military is developing a whole range of hypersonic weapons, all of which are still in the testing or development phase. Officials said that unlike China and Russia, Washington does not plan to equip any of its hypersonic launch vehicles with a nuclear warhead.
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