It is no secret that China is speeding ahead with hypersonic weapons development. Now a video has appeared that seems to show hypersonic glide vehicles being lifted aloft by a sounding balloon for high-altitude drop tests. You can read all about hypersonic weapons and why they are such a big deal in this past explainer of ours.
We can't confirm with absolute certainty if this is in fact the case, but those wedge-shaped payloads look nearly identical to hypersonic vehicle shapes we have seen China working on in the past. In addition, using a high-altitude balloon as a platform to launch glide tests of different hypersonc boost glide vehicle configurations seems like an incredibly logical and efficient process for gathering important real-world testing data.
I came across the video on Twitter, it was posted by @Defengchao who always has fantastic content to share on Chinese military activities. Check it out in full below.
It looks like the balloon's payload adapter is carrying three glide vehicles, two of which are very similar with the third being clearly a different design. In fact, they appear to closely match the two designs that we have seen pictures of (also shown in this article below).
China is surprisingly open about sharing some advanced research and development of concepts with direct military applications by its academic institutions, but is far more guarded about capabilities directly in development for operational use by the Chinese military itself. So the video isn't as surprising as it may seem. Also remember, China only shows us what they want to, so this shouldn't act as an indicator of where they are with this technology developmentally speaking.
We also have no clue when this video was actually shot. China is known to have the WU-14 hypersonic boost glide vehicle (also known as the DF-ZF) deep in development at this time with an operational fielding date thought to be some time in the next couple years or so.
If anything else, this is just another reminder that a great hypersonic arms race is indeed underway, with the U.S., China, and Russia all rushing to usher ultra high-speed weapons concepts into an operational state. And with every new measure, countermeasures are certain to emerge. These weapons are no different. The U.S. is already moving to develop defenses to repel them and its competitors aren't likely to rest on their laurels either.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com