China tests new hypersonic aircraft

China claims to have successfully tested its first hypersonic aircraft, a big step forward in aerospace technology that could intensify pressure on the US military. 

Background 

In 1909, Feng Ru, an overseas Chinese staying in the US, successfully launched the trial flight of China’s first plane. However, China did not begin to set up its aviation industry up until 1949. Soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party and the people's government put the problem of creating a strong aviation industry at the top of its agenda. The needs of the national defense prompted New China to set up its Aviation Industry Bureau, headed by Duan Zijun and founded on April 17, 1951, to make preparations for the plane manufacture industry. 

The bureau decided to develop the industry by repairing, imitating, remodelling and then independently designing planes. On July 25, 1954, Nanchang Aircraft Industry Co. produced the Yak-18 CJ-5 trainer and passed the State appraisal. In September 1956, Shenyang Aircraft Industry Co. developed the J-5 (Mig-17) fighter, the first jet fighter in China, and got the approval to manufacture the fighters in batches. In July 1958, the first self-developed JJ-1 jet trainer made a successful test flight in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province. 

In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union broke off its contract with China and withdrew its experts. Thus, China took special measures to solve the problem of domestic material supply. This led to the quick development of the Chinese aviation industry into a burgeoning industry of considerable scale. It produced batches of aircraft to arm the Chinese Air Force and Navy and to equip the Chinese airlines. It also boosted the technical progress of the Chinese raw and processed material industry and machine building and provided favourable conditions for the start of the Chinese rocket and missile industry. By the end of the Cold War, the Chinese aviation industry had entered into a new stage of development after more than thirty years of unremitting efforts. This was a solid foundation for the Chinese aviation industry to become an industrial system with a relatively complete range of categories by the 21st century. 

 

Analysis 

As trade tensions between the US and China continue to escalate, Chinese officials announced on Friday that the country had tested its first hypersonic flight vehicle, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, run by state-owned space contractor China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, conducted a successful first flight test of the Xingkong-2, which has been named Starry Sky-2. The Starry Sky-2 reached a top speed of Mach 6, which is six times the speed of sound, or 4,563 miles per hour. 

The Starry Sky 2, a waverider, is a hypersonic flight vehicle that uses shock waves generated by its own flight in the air to glide at a high speed and features a wedge-shaped fuselage. The CAAA did not indicate what the new aircraft or technology would be used for, other than to say they hoped to continue contributing to China's aerospace industry. However, it is expected that besides its military use, the technology may be adapted to a civilian role, including in industrial transport. Chinese officials said the design of the Starry Sky 2 took three years to develop. 

The US has been experimenting with unmanned hypersonic aircraft for years, and successfully tested the Boeing X-51 Waverider between 2010 and 2013. It reached a top speed above Mach 5 before crashing into the ocean, as intended. Just this year, Russia claimed to have successfully tested its first hypersonic missiles, and released videos of the weapons in July.

However, China's new claim may put additional pressure on the US. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work also warned in June that the US was in danger of being surpassed by China in terms of military technology. "China has tested hypersonic capabilities. Russia has tested. We have as well. Hypersonic capabilities are a significant challenge," Gen. John Hyten of US said. "We are going to need a different set of sensors in order to see the hypersonic threats. Our adversaries know that” he added. 

Assessment

Our assessment is that the test of the Starry Sky-2 is a breakthrough in Chinese aviation technology as it can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons. We believe that the test showcases China’s capabilities at par with the US and Russia. We feel that the waverider’s superfast speed poses a challenge to current anti-missile defence systems that are designed to protect against slower cruise and ballistic missiles.