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Political Information Last Updated: Oct 18, 2021 - 10:12:05 PM

The New Chinese Wonder Weapon Which Likely Isn't One
By Moon of Alabama
Oct 18, 2021 - 10:10:05 PM

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On Saturday the Financial Times published a sensational piece on alleged Chinese testing of a new weapon system:

China tests new space capability with hypersonic missile
Launch in August of nuclear-capable rocket that circled the globe took US intelligence by surprise

China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.

Five people familiar with the test said the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.

The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised.

The test has raised new questions about why the US often underestimated China's military modernisation.

"We have no idea how they did this," said a fourth person.

That fourth person must be part of the U.S. 'intelligence' community which is know for its lack thereof. Or some know nothing political editor:

Blake Hounshell @blakehounshell 10:00 PM · Oct 16, 2021
Incredible. This has all the elements of a Sputnik moment:
Demetri Sevastopulo @Dimi · Oct 16
SCOOP - #China has stunned US intelligence and military officials by testing a #nuclear capable #hypersonic missile that traveled through low orbit in space, making a full circle around the globe before speeding towards its target.

What the FT describes is a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System which the USSR once developed but never deployed in larger numbers:

The Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) was a nuclear-weapons delivery system developed in the 1960s by the Soviet Union. One of the first Soviet efforts to use space to deliver weapons, FOBS envisioned launching nuclear warheads into low Earth orbit before bringing them down on their targets.

Like a kinetic bombardment system but with nuclear weapons, FOBS had several attractive qualities: it had no range limit, its flight path would not reveal the target location, and warheads could be directed to North America over the South Pole, evading detection by NORAD's north-facing early warning systems.


The reason for developing FOBS was the U.S. deployment of anti ballistic missile systems (ABM) that threatened to take out Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Missile defense would allow the U.S. to launch a first strike onto the USSR as it could theoretically destroy a responding wave of retaliatory Soviet missiles.

In 1972 the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty was signed. It restricted U.S. and Soviet missile defense systems to one on each side. That solved the problem of a first strike capability and made the Soviet FOBS unnecessary.

In June 2002 the GW Bush administration withdrew from the ABM treaty. (One of its members, the lying former Secretary of State Collin Powell, has died today, unfortunately not in an Iraqi prison.)

The U.S. has since deployed missile defense systems. While these are of dubious quality all its potential enemies, Russia, North Korea and China, have since reacted by developing new weapon delivery systems which can circumvent U.S. missile defenses.

The development of a Chinese FOBS should therefore not astonish anyone - if it indeed has happened.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson today denied that the reported flight was of a nuclear capable system:

Bloomberg: The Financial Times has reported that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. Could the foreign ministry confirmed if China has such a missile?

Zhao Lijian: As we understand, this was a routine test of space vehicle to verify technology of spacecraft's reusability. It is of great significance to reducing the cost of using space vehicle and providing a convenient and cheap way for mankind's two-way transportation in the peaceful use of space. Several companies around the world have conducted similar tests.

After separating from the space vehicle before its return, the supporting devices will burn up when it's falling in the atmosphere and the debris will fall into the high seas. China will work with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space for the benefit of mankind.

AFP: Is the missile you mentioned the same missile reported by the Financial Times?

Zhao Lijian: As I just said, it's not missile, but a space vehicle.
Bloomberg: I'm going to follow on the routine test of the space vehicle. And could you confirm when the test happened and what kind of space vehicles it was?

Zhao Lijian: As I understand, it was in July. This is a test of space vehicle to verify the technology of spacecraft's reusability.

Reuters: The Financial Times reported that it's hypersonic missile. Are you saying that the missile mentioned in the report should be a space vehicle?

Zhao Lijian: Yes.

It is not assured that the FT report and the Chinese account are of the same system. But back in July China had indeed tested a reusable spacecraft:

The state-run China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, or CASC, released a statement earlier today stating that it had successfully carried out the first suborbital test of a reusable space vehicle that can land in a similar fashion to a traditional plane. Details about the test and the spaceplane itself are limited, but CASC has been publicly working on such technologies, ostensibly for commercial use, for years now and had previously said it expected to carry out such a flight test last year.


The space plane system China is developing would be launched by a traditional missile and, like the former U.S. Space Shuttle, glide back to earth. When reentering the atmosphere the space plane would reach, like the space shuttle, speeds beyond Mach 5 and could therefore be called hypersonic.

While such a system could have a military mission its large size means that it would be a waste to use it for the delivery of nuclear war heads.

It might of course be that whoever briefed the officials who talked to the Financial Times has exaggerated the Chinese intent and its capabilities.

Such talks of 'missile gaps' and of purported super weapons an adversary allegedly has is useful when one wants Congress to cough up more money for weapons development.

The FT report may well have been part of such a campaign.

Posted by b on October 18, 2021

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