In the race for hypersonic missile technology, recent developments place China firmly in the lead, leaving the United States trailing behind. Chinese scientists have achieved a significant breakthrough by developing an advanced surface material for “waverider” aircraft, pushing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ahead of the U.S. Army in hypersonic missile technology.
Hypersonic missiles, with speeds surpassing the sound barrier, typically fall within the Mach 5 to Mach 10 range. The breakthrough material, created by scientists at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) in Beijing, can rapidly absorb heat, improving the performance of the “waverider” aircraft during testing.
Ai Bangcheng, the deputy director of the CAAA, hailed the test as a “complete success,” although the time and location of the trial remained undisclosed. This new thermal protection technology holds the potential to revolutionize hypersonic missiles, vehicles, and aircraft, granting them longer ranges and swifter speeds, marking a significant advancement in existing technology.
Furthermore, this innovation extends beyond missile technology; the thermal material can also support the development of fast aircraft capable of traveling at hypersonic speeds. Consequently, Beijing’s scientists have the potential to usher in an era of stealth military aircraft capable of global operations within just an hour or two.
Due to delays and overspending, the US’s hypersonic missile program has had multiple failures. The Congressional Budget Office has expressed concerns, stating that China is ahead of the United States in developing the thermal shielding technology required for hypersonic speed.
An operational test of a Lockheed Martin prototype hypersonic missile, carried out by the U.S. Air Force on October 12, offered some promise. The specifics and results of the test are yet unknown, though. The U.S. Air Force declared a previous hypersonic missile test to be unsuccessful, raising questions about the country’s hypersonic capabilities.
The hypersonic technological developments in China have not gone overlooked. The U.S. military referred to China’s accomplishment of flying hypersonic vehicles around the world in 2021 as “defying the laws of physics,” underscoring the impressive advancements made by Chinese experts in this area.
In order to maintain its competitiveness in this crucial area of military technology, the United States needs to address its lagging position as China continues to enhance its hypersonic capabilities. It is now more important than ever to preserve technological parity as the hypersonic race enters a new phase.