What is a hypersonic missile? China space capability test explained, US response - and should we be worried

China denies reports detailing how it launch a hypersonic missile around Earth

China denies reports detailing how it launch a hypersonic missile around Earth. (Pic: Shutterstock)China denies reports detailing how it launch a hypersonic missile around Earth. (Pic: Shutterstock)
China denies reports detailing how it launch a hypersonic missile around Earth. (Pic: Shutterstock)

The supposed missile or hypersonic glide vehicle circled Earth at a ferocious speed before descending to hit its target, according to a report in the Financial Times.

A month after it was reported, Pentagon officials are understood to remain unsure over China’s ability to develop such a weapon and its capability after it travelled five times the speed of sound.

Here’s what we know about the hypersonic missile in question, US’s response and China’s stance in a development which has worried intelligence agencies around the world.

What is a hypersonic missile?

Hypersonic missiles are faster and more agile than regular military missiles.

Their speed, often reported as five times faster than the speed of sound, and agility make them much harder to track and intercept if needed.

They are capable of carrying nuclear warheads and are seen as a vital part of a country’s armoury, with focus on research and development.

Did China launch a hypersonic missile?

The hypersonic missile in question was launched in August of this year, despite reports only coming to light over the weekend.

The Financial Times piece outlined how the missile "flew through low orbit space" and was able to "negate" US missile defence systems.

China is understood to be piling finance into hypersonic missiles, which will act as a key new member in its nuclear deterrence system.

The missile missed its target by 24 miles and no fewer than five people familiar with China’s missile test were quoted in the story.

However, China has denied the launch of a hypersonic missile and instead stated it was a routine spacecraft check.

Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said the Financial Times report was inaccurate.

He said: "This was not a missile, this was a spacecraft. This is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use."

What has the US said about China’s test?

The alleged launch of a hypersonic missile caught the US and other nations by surprise.

The Financial Times report stated: "The test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised."

Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, Mike Gallagher, is reported as saying if Washington stuck to its current approach it would lose a new Cold War with China within a decade.

A Pentagon spokesperson said: “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond.”

Should the world be worried about hypersonic missiles?

Hypersonic missiles are being developed or are in the planning stages of being developed in a handful of leading nations across the world.

As well as China, the US, Russia, North Korea, India, Japan, Australia and Pakistan are working on hypersonic missile technology to strengthen nuclear arms.

Both North Korea and Russia have gone on record confirming the launch of hypersonic missiles.

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