Published: 23rd November 2021
What The FAQ: What are the hypersonic missiles that China is testing? Will it change modern warfare?
The hypersonic missiles that were tested in July and August at the South China Sea have now grabbed the attention of the United States
The world has taken note of China's latest missile tests. The hypersonic missiles that were tested in July and August at the South China Sea have now grabbed the attention and shocked those in the United States. According to experts, hypersonic missiles could alter modern warfare. Here's all you need to know about hypersonic weapons and why the US is shocked by China's prowess.
What is a hypersonic missile?
Any hypersonic weapon can travel at a speed that's five times faster than the speed of sound. This cutting-edge technology has been touted as having several advancements and advantages over the currently-used ballistic weapons. For example, a hypersonic cruise missile has the capability to be manoeuvred well and cannot be detected easily because it flies through a lower altitude. The altitude and trajectory of ballistic missiles are predictable in nature and therefore can be easily detected.
What missile did China launch?
There are two kinds of hypersonic missiles. The hypersonic cruise missiles are powered by engines that help them to travel to their target. Another type of hypersonic missile is launched using glide vehicles. China launched the second type, where a missile travels on a rocket into the Earth's upper atmosphere and then descends to hit its target. China launched a rocket carrying the glide vehicle and after it circled the globe on a low orbit, the missile was launched at its target.
Which other countries have such missiles?
Besides China — which is testing missiles as a defence measure against the United States — there are just three other countries that have such technology. These include the United States, Russia and India. India's hypersonic missile Brahmos II, which was developed indigenously and tested in September this year, made India the fourth country in the world to possess such cutting-edge technology. According to the DRDO, more such tests will be conducted over the next five years.
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The Russian hypersonic missile is called 3M22 Zircon. The Zircon can fly up to Mach 6 speed and it is so fast that a plasma cloud is formed in front of the missile when it travels through the low atmosphere. This makes the missile capable of absorbing any radio waves and therefore, undetectable to the modern radar.