What If China Really Tested Nuclear-Capable Hypersonic Missile?

China reportedly tested a hypersonic missile that has the ability to carry nuclear warheads in August. The missile was supposedly carried into orbit by a spacecraft where it separated and circled the earth before reentering the atmosphere and falling back to earth. Although the missile missed its target by 25 miles, the number is negligible especially if it was carrying a nuclear warhead.

China is in the middle of modernizing its strategic arms and is expected to double its nuclear capacity over the next decade.

The US national security is reportedly at high alert, as China’s development of such a weapon, known as “hypersonic glide vehicle”, wasn’t expected for years. The term hypersonic means the object is traveling at least five times the speed of sound. The current US missile defense capabilities cannot stop such a weapon.

If the reports are true, China, like Russia, intends to develop weapons systems that could cancel the USA’s global missile defense systems out. Current intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fly into space and released from the orbit, but their arc is predictable. However, the weapon China tested is said to be maneuverable, and impossible to ward off under current technologies. 

The US and China’s race for weapons development resembles the Cold War era, but the US and the USSR had a series of treaties where they keep communication channels open and keep each other’s weapons technologies in check.

The two countries have started to show their teeth in various areas, and most recently in Taiwan. Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would try to find a solution for a peaceful reunification with the island. At the beginning of October, China had flown 150 fighter jets in Taiwan’s airspace. On the other hand, two dozen US military personnel are said to be in Taiwan to train local forces for over a year.

Although China’s new weapons developments do not tilt the military balance power, China’s expansion and diversification of its military arsenal could push the Biden Administration to start non-proliferation talks with China. However, China won’t be persuaded easily, as it still has a small fraction of the US’ and Russia’s nuclear power. When the USA and Russia signed their nuclear warheads treaty, they decided to limit the number of warheads at 1,550. China, which is not part of the agreement, has a stockpile of only 200 such warheads.

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