Last week, it was reported that China conducted a successful test flight of hypersonic glide weapon which traveled at a low orbit around the entire globe. The “Long March” missile missed its intended practice target by 20 miles.

The test was conducted in August but was kept secret. The Financial Times spoke to five sources who discussed the launch.


In a meeting, one US military leader said, “We have no idea how they did it.” That same leader said that China’s development of this type of weapon “caught US intelligence by surprise.”

US disarmament ambassador, Robert Wood, said, “We are very concerned by what China has been doing on the hypersonic front. We just don’t know how we can defend against that type of technology. Neither does China or Russia.”

First, the Chinese Military declined to discuss the missile. Then, they said they were developing an “inherently defensive military strategy,” which wasn’t meant for any specific target.

On Sunday, however, Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that it was actually a spacecraft. “This was not a missile, this was a spacecraft,” he said. “This is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use.”

“Hypersonic technology is something that we have been concerned about,” Wood said, “the potential military applications of it and we have held back from pursuing, we had held back from pursing military applications for this technology. But we have seen China and Russia pursuing very actively the use, the militarization of this technology so we are just having to respond in kind.

“But this type of technology is worrisome, because we just haven’t had to face it before.”

Defense Department spokesman John Kirby commented on the matter, saying, “[C]oncerns have been expressed about China’s military capabilities, which are only adding to tensions in the region and beyond.” This is one reason “why we see China as our greatest challenge.”


Hypersonic missiles have the capability of carrying nuclear warheads. The have a low orbit around the earth at more than five times the speed of sound. The danger is that they’re difficult to intercept by defense systems due to easy maneuverability.

“The timing isn’t surprising at all,” said senior fellow of the nuclear policy program based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, Tong Zhao. “China is known to have been conducting research on new delivery technologies for some time. But even if this reported launch was a weapons test, it may be far from becoming an operational capability.

“If the FT report was true, it means that China is willing to go the extra mile with a exotic approach to penetrate the US’s missile defense.”


Zhao also said that the US has “long possessed a very similar and more sophisticated technology, such as the X-37B spacecraft.”

“It is hard to determine ‘surprise’ in the intelligence community because compartmentalization is its way of life,” said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “Those who might talk to journalists are not necessarily those who would have been briefed on these PLA developments.”

This piece was written by Leah Anaya on October 19, 2021. It originally appeared in and is used by permission.

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