China’s new high-speed maneuvering warhead is a “great concern” because it appears designed for use with both nuclear and conventional Chinese military forces, a Pentagon intelligence official said Thursday.
Lee Fuell, a technical intelligence specialist with the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center, said during a congressional China commission hearing the recently tested hypersonic glide vehicle “is basically a ballistic missile-launched system that gets the target—or gets the payload fast and high, pitches over, dives to hypersonic speed, and then basically just glides to the target.”
“At this point, we think that’s associated with their nuclear deterrent forces,” Fuell said. “Of great concern would be if they were to apply the same technology and capability with a conventional warhead or even just without a warhead because of the kinetic energy that it has.”
Combined with medium-range ballistic missiles “hypersonic vehicles of any kind—whether they’re glide vehicles or cruise missiles—are extremely difficult to defend against because just the time is so compressed between initial detection, being able to get a track, being able to get a fire control solution,” Fuell said.
The ultra high speeds make the maneuvering missiles difficult to counter with missile defense interceptors, he added.
“If that’s combined with more traditional ballistic missile attacks forcing a target to defend against very high aspect warheads coming in this way at the same time they have to defend against low altitude, very high speed targets coming in this way, it makes the defense problems orders of magnitude better,” he said.
The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed the test of an experimental hypersonic glide vehicle on Jan. 9. The vehicle appears to be an unpowered maneuvering vehicle that is lofted to near space and then is guided to its target at speeds of up to Mach 10 or nearly 8,000 miles per hour.
High Speed Threat | Washington Free Beacon