China Hypersonic Weapon Test Puts U.S. Push In Focus

China reportedly tested a hypersonic weapon in August, sparking concerns about Beijing’s advanced weapons arsenal as the U.S. races to build its own hypersonic armament.


China’s hypersonic glide vehicle flew in low-earth orbit before landing roughly 24 miles from its target, sources told the Financial Times.

Beijing has pushed back on the report, saying the launch was just a routine test of a spacecraft. But the launch comes as China turns its focus on Taiwan, where the U.S. has had a military presence for the past year. Both China and Russia have launched hypersonic missile tests in recent years.

Still, China’s most recent test reportedly took U.S. officials off guard as they expected China’s capabilities to be less advanced.

Analysts believe that hypersonic weapons have the potential to be the most disruptive battlefield technology since the advent of stealth. Unlike ballistic missiles, which fly in a predictable arc, hypersonic weapons fly five times the speed of sound — or Mach 5 — in unpredictable flight paths, making them difficult to defend against.

U.S. Hypersonic Weapons Development

Northrop Grumman (NOC) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX) successfully completed the first powered test flight of their Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept for the Air Force in late September.

Raytheon is also developing a Tactical Boost Glide weapon with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It would send a rocket to Mach 5 or above. Once it reaches that speed, its payload separates from the rocket and “glides” at hypersonic speed to its target.

Northrop shares edged down 0.1% to 394.94 on the stock market today. Northrop is currently in buy range after breaking out of a flat base with a 379.13 entry point earlier this month, according to MarketSmith analysis.

Raytheon shares fell 0.15% to 90.78. The stock also broke out of a flat base on Oct.7 with a 90.09 buy point. RTX stock had no real follow-through from the breakout, but it didn’t flash a discreditable sell sign either. Lockheed Martin (LMT) rose 0.2%.

U.S. Investing In Hypersonics

The U.S. is also investing in hypersonic weapons defense. Raytheon earlier acknowledged that it is simultaneously developing ways to defend against hypersonic missile strikes.

But the U.S. has also faced some setbacks in the development of hypersonic weapons. The Air Force canceled Lockheed’s Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program last year. Then Lockheed’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon failed its first booster flight in April when the engine didn’t ignite.

Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for defense news and more.


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