China is testing two hypersonic surface-to-surface missiles and not one as previously reported, state media claimed.
If true, the development of a second munition capable of traveling at least five times the speed of sound while maneuvering could weigh on the balance of power in the Pacific region.
The second missile, the Xingkong-2, differs in detail compared to the DF-17 that made its first public appearance as part of the Oct. 1, 2019 celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
“One distinctive difference between the Xingkong-2 and the DF-17 is that the former has a fairing and the latter does not, making the two very different in appearance alone,” Global Times reported.
The DF-17 is a boost-glide system, meaning it launches atop a rocket before separating and gliding at high speed toward its target. Other hypersonic systems under development in the United States and Russia are air-breathing and include their own, integrated motors.
It’s unclear how far along in development and deployment the DF-17 is, to say nothing of the purported second Chinese hypersonic munition.
China first tested the DF-17 in 2013 and apparently rushed the weapon into service. Sixteen DF-17s appeared on their truck-transporters at the October anniversary celebrations in Beijing.
It’s unclear how many of the missiles China possesses in total and how it plans to use the missiles during wartime. Most importantly, it’s not obvious that China has built a sensor network capable of selecting targets for the DF-17.
Global Times claimed the Chinese military first tested the Xingkong-2 in 2018. The new weapon “is not likely to enter Chinese military service as early as 2019,” the government-run media outlet explained.
Russia reportedly has deployed a small number of minimally-tested hypersonic missiles. The United States is taking a more leisurely approach to developing its own family of ground-, sea- and air-launched hypersonic missiles and does not expect to field an operational weapon until the early 2020s, at the soonest.