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China Tested Two Hypersonic Weapons Over Summer, FT Reports

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/21/2021 Iain Marlow
70th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The People's Republic Of China - Military Parade & Mass Pageantry © Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac 70th Anniversary Of The Founding Of The People's Republic Of China - Military Parade & Mass Pageantry

(Bloomberg) -- China’s military conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer rather than the one test reported earlier, the Financial Times said, a development that could heighten worries in Washington about Beijing’s advancing military capabilities.

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China first tested a rocket using a “fractional orbital bombardment” system to launch a “hypersonic glide vehicle” capable of carrying nuclear weapons on July 27, and followed that up with a second hypersonic test on Aug. 13, the newspaper reported late Wednesday, citing officials it didn’t identify. The FT had reported Saturday that China conducted a single hypersonic test.

The object, which the FT said missed its target by about two dozen miles after dropping from orbit, has raised concerns that U.S. rivals may be able to eventually neutralize the Pentagon’s missile defenses. The technology, once perfected, could conceivably be used to send nuclear warheads over the South Pole and around American anti-missile systems in the northern hemisphere. 

China’s Orbiting Missile Exploits Weakness in U.S. Defenses

Video: U.S. concerned by possible Chinese, Russian uses of hypersonic weapons (Reuters)

On Monday, China disputed the FT’s initial report about the test, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying the object launched into space was a reusable space vehicle like those advanced by private rocket companies like SpaceX. The latest FT report said that the reusable space vehicle described by the Foreign Ministry was tested on July 16, before the other two launches. 

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reaffirmed the country’s previous interpretation of events: “I want to reiterate that this test reported by certain media is a routine spacecraft test to verify the technology of the spacecraft’s reusability,” Wang told reporters at a regular news briefing in Beijing. 

If the hypersonic tests are eventually confirmed, it would sharpen rising worries in the West about China’s rapidly modernizing military technology, particularly its growing arsenal of missiles. The tests could suggest President Xi Jinping may be exploring orbital strikes as a way to counter American advancements in shooting down ballistic missiles before they can threaten the U.S. homeland.

(Updates with Chinese Foreign Ministry response in fifth paragraph.)

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