China ‘tested a SECOND hypersonic orbital nuke capable of breaching missile defences’

Daily Mail

China carried out a second test of what is believed to be a hypersonic orbital missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead earlier this year, intelligence sources have claimed.

The new test is believed to have taken place on August 13 and involved a similar ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ to one launched into space on board a Long March rocket back in July, which was first reported earlier this week.

Beijing has acknowledged one of the tests, claiming it launched a ‘peaceful’ civilian spacecraft. But analysts believe the craft can actually be tipped with a nuclear warhead which would be able to evade missile defences.

Even government scientists are struggling to work out exactly what the new craft is capable of, with one source telling the Financial Times that it appears to ‘defy the laws of physics’ and is unlike any technology the US has.

The White House has refused to comment, while the US Department of Defense has refused to confirm or deny the existence of any hypersonic weapons tests.

The first test was disclosed earlier this week, when the FT quoted five intelligence sources who said that China had tested what appeared to be an orbital hypersonic nuclear missile some time in early or mid-August.

Beijing subsequently acknowledged the test, but said it had taken place on July 16. Intelligence sources now believe the test which the FT initially reported and the test acknowledged by the Chinese are different.

The newspaper now reports that the first test took place on July 27, before a second test of the same technology a little over two weeks later, on August 13.

Observers say the weapon appears to be an update of Cold War-era Soviet technology called a ‘Fractional Orbital Bombardment System’ – or FOBS.

Soviets developed the technology to get around powerful US radar arrays designed to detect the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) tipped with nukes, and defence systems designed to shoot them down.

FOBS works by putting the nuclear warheads into a low-Earth orbit, allowing them to circle the globe and manoeuvre in flight before coming down on their targets.

This makes the warheads harder to detect, track and destroy than those carried on board ICBMs.

China appears to have updated the concept by fitting the nuclear warhead on to a ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’, which is designed to travel faster and manoeuvre easier – making it even harder to stop.

After the second test was disclosed, Hu Xijin – the editor of the state-owned Global Times newspaper – said the US needs to be ‘rational’ and accept the idea of ‘mutually assured destruction’.

‘The US must abandon the crazy idea that it can strike China and Russia, but they can’t strike it,’ Hu tweeted.

However, he stopped short of confirming the test had taken place – describing it as ‘speculation’.

A follow-up editorial in the Global Times also stopped short of confirming the test, but said – if true – the development of hypersonic missiles would ‘help contain the US strategic arrogance over China and further exclude the possibility that the US blackmails China with nuclear weapons.’

The paper claims that US policy has been to develop nuclear weapons that will allow it to strike other nations while they cannot strike it – but calls this ‘an unattainable mad idea’ and says Washington must accept a reality in which all superpowers can strike one-another, describing it as a ‘balance of nuclear terror’.

‘Absolute security does not exist in today’s world,’ the editorial concludes.

The Chinese foreign ministry has yet to make a statement on the latest test claims.

Several countries, including the US and Russia, are developing their own hypersonic glide vehicles – though neither of them have put them to the same use as China.

China has shown off hypersonic glide vehicles before, including one mounted to the nose of the DF-17 nuke which featured prominently in military parade in 2019.

Analysts believe something similar was launched into space on board a rocket during its two recent hypersonic tests, and then released into low Earth orbit – circling the planet before being brought back down and aimed at a target.

It is thought the craft missed by some 24 miles, but the test still stunned analysts who believed China was far off being able to launch such technology.

Beijing did not report the test or its results at the time, but after it was disclosed earlier this week the country’s state media mocked America by saying it is a ‘new blow to the US’s mentality of strategic superiority over China’.

An op-ed in the Chinese state media outlet Global Times, Beijing’s mouthpiece, said the test means ‘there is a key new member in China’s nuclear deterrence system’, adding that this is a ‘new blow to the US’s mentality of strategic superiority over China’.

It is just the latest move in a global arms race between Russia, China and the US which is taking place against the backdrop of mounting tensions between the superpowers in the eastern Pacific.

All three countries are engaged in wholesale updates of their militaries including the development of new nuclear technology with which they can strike each-other at range.

Russia and China have, in recent years, unveiled new and more-powerful ICBMs which are capable of launching multiple nuclear warheads at targets many thousands of miles away.

The United States, Russia and at least five other countries are also working on hypersonic technology, and last month North Korea said it had test-fired a newly-developed hypersonic missile.

Russia has previously tested a hypersonic cruise missile known as Zircon, but it flies below the atmosphere and uses fuel to power itself to hypersonic speeds rather than the Earth’s orbit.

The Pentagon did not comment on China’s testing of the hypersonic missile, but did acknowledge China as their ‘number one pacing challenge’.

‘We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,’ John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Fox News. ‘That is one reason why we hold China as our number one pacing challenge.’

An op-ed in Beijing’s state media outlet Global Times said: ‘If the FT report is to be believed, it means that there is a key new member in China’s nuclear deterrence system, which is a new blow to the US’ mentality of strategic superiority over China.

‘It is important to note the unstoppable trend that China is narrowing the gap with the US in some key military technologies as China is continuously developing its economic and technological strength.’

‘China doesn’t need to engage in an ‘arms race’ with the US – it is capable of weakening the US’ overall advantages over China by developing military power at its own pace,’ the editorial added.

It is just the latest episode of nuclear sabre-rattling to come out of Beijing, after a senior Chinese diplomat suggested that Beijing should abandon its long-standing policy of not using nuclear weapons first in conflict.

Sha Zukang, the country’s former ambassador to the UN, told a summit of Chinese nuclear policy experts that it is time to ‘re- examine and fine-tune’ a long-standing commitment to only use nukes in retaliation as the US ‘builds new military alliances and as it increases its military presence in our neighbourhood.’

Beijing’s current policy – which has been in place since the 1960s – has given China the ‘moral high ground’ but ‘is not suitable . . . unless China-US negotiations agree that neither side would use [nuclear weapons] first,’ he said at a meeting in Beijing last week

 Zukang’s comments – which come as China builds hundreds of new nuclear missile silos – are significant because Beijing often floats changes of policy through senior diplomats. The body he was speaking to – the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association – is officially independent, but has strong ties to the Communist party.

China became a nuclear power in 1964 with its first successful test of a bomb, and adopted its ‘no-first-use’ policy four years later. It states that Beijing will never be the first to use nukes in a conflict, but will use them if struck first.

It mirrors a policy that Russia implemented between 1982 and 1993, though abandoned due to fears that the weakened state of its army following the break-up of the Soviet Union could encourage an attack by the US.

The US has a policy to never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against a majority of other nations including all those without nuclear weapons – but has exempted China, Russia and North Korea from the policy.

Global nuclear policy is rapidly changing as a number of Cold War-era treaties – notably New START and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – expire, with Washington hoping to renegotiate them to include China.

Zukang, in his speech, said it is ‘only a matter of time’ before such a deal is negotiated, but that Beijing should be prepared to take a more-aggressive stance until the trio put pen to paper.

China is in the midst of a major upgrade of its nuclear forces, which in recent years has seen it unveil more-advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and hypersonic nuclear missiles that are thought to be un-stoppable by current missile defence systems.

Beijing is thought to possess around 320 nuclear warheads that can be fitted to those missiles at present, but is also thought to be in the midst of a major expansion of that arsenal.

It comes after the discovery in July of two huge new missile silo bases under construction in remote desert regions of China.

Experts believe the first, near the city of Yumen, will eventually house 120 silos while the second, near the town of Hami, will house 110. A dozen more are under construction near Jilantai, with older sites also being upgraded.

Each silo can house a nuclear missile, with each missile capable of carrying up to 12 nuclear warheads if China upgrades all of them to carry its latest DF-41 rocket.

That means China’s nuclear arsenal could theoretically expand to 875 warheads. Hu Xijin, editor of the state-mouthpiece Global Times newspaper, has previously argued that it should expand to 1,000.

The move would elevate China above the low-ranking nuclear powers such as the UK, Pakistan, France and India which have stockpiled warheads in the low hundreds.

But it would still be well short of the US and Russia, the world’s two largest nuclear powers, which possess arsenals of around 4,000 warheads each.

The construction of hundreds of silos also marks a major shift in the make-up of China’s nuclear threat, which currently relies heavily on mobile road-based launchpads and nuclear-capable bombers. China also has four nuclear-armed submarines.

China is expanding its military as its economy balloons to rival that of the US, having lagged behind for decades.

In addition to building new nuclear missiles and silos, it has constructed new aircraft carriers, tanks, fighter jets, spy and attack drones, along with new rifles for its troops.

Beijing has used the new hardware to take a more aggressive stance in the Pacific: Imposing its rule on Hong Kong, menacing Taiwan, and laying claim to a number of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea which it has constructed military bases on top of.

It has also been pressing its claim to a number of other islands whose ownership is disputed, creating tensions with other regional powers such the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and others. Similar disputes are underway in the East China Sea, around islands claimed by Japan.

China claims rights over the South China Sea in its entirety, which would hand Beijing control over hugely valuable international shipping lanes, fishing grounds which neighbouring countries rely on for food, and deposits of coal and oil which dot the seabed.

The US and its allies have been pushing back on these claims, and frequently conduct what they call ‘freedom of navigation’ operations through waters that China claims as its own in defiance of Beijing.

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