U.S. concerned by possible Chinese, Russian uses of hypersonic weapons

U.S. concerned by possible Chinese, Russian uses of hypersonic weapons


The United States is concerned about hypersonic missile technology and its potential military applications by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia, a U.S. arms control official said in mid-October 2021, after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.

Hypersonic weapons are usually defined as missiles that fly more than five times the speed of sound — about 6,100 kilometers per hour — and a race is underway for the next generation of long-range weapons that are harder to detect and intercept.

The Financial Times newspaper reported that the PRC tested a weapon in August 2021 that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target which it missed.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the report, saying it carried out a routine test in July: “It was not a missile, it was a space vehicle.”

The U.S. and Russia have tested hypersonic weapons, but U.S. disarmament envoy Robert Wood said that Washington had concerns about the possible use of such high-speed weapons that can evade missile defense systems.

“Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about, the potential military applications of it, and we have held back from pursuing. We had held back from pursing military applications for this technology,” he told reporters in Geneva. “But we have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarization of this technology, so we are just having to respond in kind.”

Wood noted that Russia’s hypersonic glide vehicle, known as the Avangard, is covered by the New START nuclear arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

“But this type of technology is worrisome because we just haven’t had to face it before,” he said.

Wood voiced hope that the new technology could be addressed in an internationally agreed principle or legal mechanism in future.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, pictured, said separately that Washington was closely watching the PRC’s development of advanced weapons systems.

“We watch closely China’s development of armament and advanced capabilities and systems that will only increase tensions in the region,” Austin told reporters during a visit to Tbilisi, Georgia.

He said Washington remains focused on the military challenge from Beijing.