China 'wants to hide ballistic missiles' in the sea says expert
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The Chinese military sent a missile into low-orbit space and around the globe during a test two months ago, before cruising down to its target, the Financial Times reported on Saturday. Although the weapon missed its mark by about two dozen miles, the paper said, once perfected the technology could be used to send nuclear warheads over the South Pole, subverting American missile defence systems.
Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy, told the paper a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China “negate” US missile defence systems.
The Chinese disputed the newspaper’s account. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the launch as a “routine test of a space vehicle to verify technology for spacecraft reusability”.
He compared it with systems being developed by private companies.
“China will work with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space for the benefit of mankind,” Mr Zhao told a news briefing on Monday.
However, Li Nan, a Chinese security and military expert at the National University of Singapore, described the test to Bloomberg as “a game-changer”.
“If China was able to deploy one, that would basically neutralise US missile defence,” Dr Li said.
“It makes it very hard for the US to deal with this new type of missile and will make it very costly to combat and build up new capabilities to counteract this technology.”
One person familiar with the launch is quoted by the Financial Times as saying starkly: “we have no idea how they did this.”
The missile test would suggest that Chinese President Xi Jinping may be exploring the threat of orbital strikes as a way of countering perceived American aggression, as the world’s largest economy looks to stem Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and protect Taiwan from invasion.
The US Military Defence Agency plans to spend $45 billion between 2020 and 2024, after spending around $163 billion in the previous two decades.
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US President Joe Biden has pressed ahead with plans to develop a new anti-missile warhead and expand defence systems in Alaska and Europe, despite overrunning costs and delays.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the Financial Times report.
However, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that “we have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond.
“That is one reason why we hold China as our number-one pacing challenge.”
A hypersonic glider is launched into space on a rocket, but orbits the planet under its own momentum.
While they are slower than a ballistic missile, they do not follow a fixed trajectory and can change path, making them harder to track.
Melissa Hanham, a non-proliferation expert, told Bloomberg that “weaponising space in this way is extremely risky and destabilising should any country pursue it”.
America’s ability to stop a Chinese missile strike before it reaches an American target has long been a deterrent against more assertive military action by the world’s second largest economy.
The Soviets considered a similar missile system during the Cold War, as a way of obfuscating American defences, before abandoning such plans.
However, in 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin rolled out new weapons that he claimed would render US missile defences “ineffective”.
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