China mounts third hypersonic 'Wu-14' missile test, US report says
China mounts third test of system aimed at piercing US defences, American report says
The People's Liberation Army conducted a third flight test of a new hypersonic missile this week after the weapon's second test failed in August, according to a US report.
The hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed the "Wu-14" by the United States, was spotted by US intelligence agencies on Tuesday during a flight test in western China, US-based online newspaper the Washington Free Beacon reported, citing US defence officials.
The US officials said the test was part of China's strategic nuclear programme and efforts to develop delivery vehicles capable of penetrating US defences.
The tests indicated that China's development of a strike vehicle capable of travelling at up to eight times the speed of sound was a high priority in the country's large-scale military buildup, the report said.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the report of the test but declined to provide details.
"We are aware of reports regarding this test and we routinely monitor foreign weapon systems," the report quoted Pentagon spokesman Jeff Pool as saying. "However, we don't comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems."
Two sources close to the military confirmed to the South China Morning Post in August that a second - albeit unsuccessful - test had taken place as part of China's attempts to find a way to deliver nuclear weapons at immense speed to evade defence systems. The second test took place at a missile and satellite launch centre in Shanxi province, about 300km from the provincial capital Taiyuan , sources said. The vehicle broke up soon after lift-off.
The United States is the only other nation known to have developed similar technology but Russia and India are also known to be working on hypersonic missiles.
China first tested its system in a successful launch in January, which the People's Liberation Army declared a breakthrough. The system is designed to be carried by a ballistic missile to an undisclosed suborbital altitude and then released. The vehicle then dives towards its target at speeds of up to Mach 10, or more than 12,000km/h.
The technology is expected to be capable of penetrating any existing defence system with nuclear warheads.
Wang Xudong, an adviser to the central government on satellites, was previously quoted as describing the system as a game-changer because it could hit a target before any defence system in use today could react. Once deployed, it could greatly boost China's strategic and conventional missile force, Wang said.