Reports are emerging that China has developed and is testing cutting-edge technology on a new kind of ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).
According to a report from The Diplomat, the DF-17 is the first hypersonic glide vehicle-equipped missile intended for operational deployment ever tested.
The diplomat cites a U.S. government source–who spoke on the condition of anonymity–before describing recent intelligence assessments on the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) that indicate China recently conducted two tests of a new missile known as the DF-17.
According to the report:
The first test took place on November 1 and the second test took place on November 15. The November 1 test was the first Chinese ballistic missile test to take place after the conclusion of the first plenum of the Communist Party of China’s 19th Party Congress in October. During the November 1 test flight, which took place from the Jiuquan Space Launcher Center in Inner Mongolia, the missile’s payload flew to a range of approximately 1,400 kilometers with the HGV flying at a depressed altitude of around 60 kilometers following the completion of the DF-17’s ballistic and reentry phases.
HGVs begin flight after separating from their ballistic missile boosters, which follow a standard ballistic trajectory to give the payload vehicle sufficient altitude.
Parts of the U.S. intelligence community assess that the DF-17 is a medium-range system, with a range capability between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers. The missile is expected to be capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional payloads and may be capable of being configured to deliver a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV.
The source went on to reveal that most of the missile’s flight time, during the November test, was powered by HGV during the glide phase. The missile successfully made impact at a site in Xinjiang Province, outside Qiemo, “within meters” of the intended target, the source added. The duration of the HGV flight was nearly 11 minutes during the test.
The DF-17, per current U.S. intelligence assessments, is expected to reach initial operating capability around 2020.
“Although hypersonic glide vehicles and missiles flying non-ballistic trajectories were first proposed as far back as World War II, technological advances are only now making these systems practicable,” Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said during testimony before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in June.
In addition to the recent tests, China has conducted seven known tests of experimental hypersonic glide vehicles between 2014 and 2016.
In a report detailing new ballistic and cruise missile threats to the United States, released this year, the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center observed that “hypersonic glide vehicles delivered by ballistic missile boosters are an emerging threat that will pose new challenges to missile defense systems.”
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