WASHINGTON — China for the first time has tested a hypersonic missile vehicle designed to travel several times the speed of sound, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
The test makes China the second country after the United States to conduct experimental flights with hypersonic vehicles, a technology that could allow armies to rapidly strike distant targets anywhere on the globe.
“We’re aware of the test of the hypersonic vehicle but we are not commenting on it,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Pool, a Pentagon spokesman.
The flight was conducted on Jan. 9 and the Chinese vehicle, dubbed the WU-14, is supposed to travel at Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound, according to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, an online publication.
In its annual report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon made no mention of hypersonic test flights but did say the Chinese had built a hypersonic wind tunnel for experiments.
China’s surging economic power has been matched by increasing military might, including investments in an aircraft carrier, anti-ship ballistic missiles, satellites and other hardware.
Three Republican lawmakers, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, expressed concern over the test of what they called a “Chinese hypersonic cruise missile” and said the US military was falling behind.
“While round after round of defense cuts have knocked America’s technological advantage on its back, the Chinese and other competitor nations push towards military parity with the United States; in some cases, as in this one, they appear to be leaping ahead of us,” said McKeon, and Reps. Randy Forbes and Mike Rogers.
“This situation does nothing to support peaceful coexistence in the Pacific,” it said.
The United States has placed a high priority on hypersonic projects, spending $200 million in fiscal year 2013 on three programs while conducting a number of test flights with hypersonic vehicles.