WASHINGTON – China for the first time has tested a hypersonic missile vehicle designed to travel several times the speed of sound, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The test makes China the second country, after the United States, to conduct experimental flights with hypersonic vehicles, a technology that could allow armies to rapidly strike distant targets anywhere around the globe.
“We’re aware of the test of the hypersonic vehicle but we are not commenting on it,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Pool, a Pentagon spokesman.
The flight was conducted Jan. 9, and the Chinese vehicle, dubbed the WU-14, is said to travel at Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound, according to a report in an online publication, The Washington Free Beacon.
Chinese state-run broadcaster China Radio International quoted the information office of the Defense Ministry as saying, “China’s planned domestic scientific research and experiments are normal and are not aimed at any country or target.”
It did not explicitly confirm or deny the test.
In its annual report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon made no mention of hypersonic test flights but did say that the Chinese had built a hypersonic wind tunnel for experiments.
China’s surging economic power has been matched by increasing military might, including investments in an aircraft carrier, anti-ship ballistic missiles, satellites and other hardware.
Three Republican lawmakers, including the House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, expressed concern over the test of what they called a “Chinese hypersonic cruise missile” and said the U.S. military is falling behind.
“While round after round of defense cuts have knocked America’s technological advantage on its back, the Chinese and other competitor nations push toward military parity with the United States; in some cases, as in this one, they appear to be leaping ahead of us,” they said.