China’s Foray into Hypersonic Weapons

In part one of this two-part series, I examined the most recent advances in Russia's military technology; the development of its Zircon (Tsirkon) 3M22 hypersonic missile, an advancement that led Washington's Government Accountability Office to state this:

"China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities.  There are no existing countermeasures." (my bold)

In the second part of this posting, I will outline China's foray into the futuristic world of hypersonic weapons, its DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle also known as the WU-14.

Here is a summary of the DF-ZF's capabilities from the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA):

According to Deagel, the DF-ZF is capable of reaching speeds ranging from Mach 5 (5,978 kmph) and Mach 10 (12,000 kmph) and has a maximum cruising flight altitude of 62 miles or 99,758 metres).  The first flight test took place on January 9, 2014 and China reported that the maximum speed achieved by the DF-ZF was Mach 20 or 24,696 kmph.  The DF-ZF is nuclear-capable and its payload is launched as the final stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Its flat trajectory makes it difficult for conventional air and missile defences to detect.

Here are three screen captures from a Chinese state media (CCTV) video showing the DF-ZF:

 

Here is a computer-generated rendering of the test flight of the DF-ZF:

Here is a video that reportedly shows the plasma trail left by the DF-ZF's flight:

Here's what the MDAA has to say about the strategic implications of the DF-ZF:

"The DF-ZF will bring a hypersonic capability to the PLARF (People's Liberation Army Rocket Force). Missiles carrying the DF-ZF will have shorter flight times and be capable of performing evasive maneuvers at hypersonic speeds, which will complicate the ability of current missile defenses to intercept it. The current missiles believed to be capable of carrying the HGV are short- and medium-ranged but could strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. carriers and bases in the region. It is also capable of carrying nuclear payloads as well as conventional." (my bold)

According to the United States Naval Institute news service, a panel of experts at the Hudson Institute claimed that China's hypersonic technology is now leading the world and impacting how the Pentagon operates in the South China Sea.  Here's what Roger Zakheim, the Washington Director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute had to say about China's hypersonic weapons at the panel held on March 11, 2019: 

"From a National Defense Strategy standpoint, you know, we have been struggling for some time with the A2/AD challenge. And that challenge of Anti-Access Area Denial is no clearer – there's no clearer case, no clearer challenge than in the Indo-Pacific theater and the challenges that China is imposing upon the United States as a Pacific power. And hypersonic weapons goes right to the heart of that challenge because it is the capability that will keep us out from carrying out our treaty obligations and other support we offer to our friends and allies, and really what make us a Pacific power. So whether it's our carriers, which are hypersonic weapon-based on our missile defenses and other capabilities today, essentially, we'll be pushed out and rendered kind of operationally useless, or our ability to shore up our allies because we have no response to the capability of hypersonic weapons is right at the heart of it. And then, of course, in terms of our ability to hold our adversaries' targets at bay, which is a key component of deterrence – this kind of one-on-one – yes, we can deter today. But in the era of hypersonic weapons, where we are right now, we may not be able to deter. So both in terms of defensive posture and then off – and then from an offensive standpoint, this is key." (my bold)

If you are interested, the entire panel discussion on China's hypersonic weapons program can be watched here:

As I stated at the conclusion of part one of this two-part series on hypersonic weapons, the growing threats from the development of hypersonic weapons by America's two leading adversaries must be of growing concern to the Pentagon given that there is no current defense strategy or technology that can be used to neutralize these leading-edge weapons.  That said, it is fortunate that Washington has a bottomless bucket of taxpayers' dollars to fund the technological advances that will be required to level the playing field in future wars.

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