“We have no idea how they did this,” said one person briefed on the intelligence.
China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that flew round the earth before speeding towards its target, catching US intelligence services by surprise, it was reported.
The technology demonstrates an advanced space capability showing China’s progress on hypersonic weaponry to be far more developed than US officials realised, according to the Financial Times.
The missile, carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising downward, missed its target by 24 miles, according to three people familiar with the test.
“We have no idea how they did this,” one of those briefed on the intelligence told the newspaper.
China joins the US, Russia and China in developing hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles- missiles are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum.
These missiles fly at five times the speed of sound. Though slower than a ballistic missile, they are manoeuvrable and do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory, making them harder to trace.
Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese nuclear policy, told the FT the new technology could “negate” US missile defence, designed to destroy approaching ballistic missiles.
He said: “Hypersonic glide vehicles . . . fly at lower trajectories and can manoeuvre in flight, which makes them hard to track and destroy.”
Spokesperson Liu Pengyu said China always pursued a military policy that was “defensive in nature” and was not intended to target any particular country.
“We don’t have a global strategy and plans of military operations like the US does. And we are not at all interested in having an arms race with other countries,” he said.
“In contrast, the US has in recent years been fabricating excuses like ‘the China threat’ to justify its arms expansion and development of hypersonic weapons. This has directly intensified arms race in this category and severely undermined global strategic stability.”
The news coincides with the continued efforts being made by chine to expand its military and nuclear capabilities in the wake of increased tension with Taiwan.
China’s president Xi Jinping has vowed last week to pursue what he calls peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan despite Beijing’s scaling up of military activity and heightened tension between the two neighbours.