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China Testing 'Hypersonic' Weapons

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In this 2014 file photo, a Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill in the South China Sea.
In this 2014 file photo, a Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill in the South China Sea.

Four times in the past 18 months, China has carried out hypersonic weapons tests. Hypersonic weapon delivery vehicles can travel at speeds of more than five times the speed of sound. China says its most recent test flight was on June 9th. The tests are a sign of the country's continuing efforts to make highly developed weapons.

The hypersonic missile delivery vehicles are able to transport nuclear weapons. But China said the tests are, in its words, "purely scientific and (are) not targeted at any country."

The United States, Russia and India have also been developing hypersonic vehicles.

One of China's four tests reportedly failed. And the United States is far ahead of the Chinese in missile development. But China is developing hypersonic capability and could one day have better delivery vehicles than the United States. So says James Acton of the Nuclear Policy Program and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He spoke recently to members of the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Acton said China's hypersonic weapons development program is probably less developed than the American program. But he said China might be able to develop its program more quickly.

The U.S. military has been testing hypersonic weapon delivery vehicles for the past five years. The military completed a fourth successful test two years ago. Some experts say hypersonic glide vehicles could be available for use by the armed forces within five to 10 years.

Morley Stone is Chief Technology Officer for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. He said the military will continue to develop its hypersonic capability. He said the military knows it is going to need weapons that can travel faster than those deployed by other countries. He says the U.S. must continue its research efforts.

Mr. Acton agrees that the United States has a more-advanced hypersonic weapons program. But he thinks China's hypersonic weapons are still a serious threat to the U.S. because there is no way to defend large areas against them.

In recent years, U.S. lawmakers expressed concern about China's development of hypersonic technologies. Some said that the United States is falling behind China in the hypersonic arms race.

Buck McKeon of California was a member of the House of Representatives until early this year. He also served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He and two other members of the committee released a statement after China's first test of hypersonic vehicles last year. The statement said cuts in military spending have hurt America's technological advantage. It said the Chinese and other nations are seeking to become as powerful militarily as the United States. "In some cases," it added, "they appear to be leaping ahead of us."

American officials hope the United States can keep its lead in being able to launch targeted missile strikes quickly. They say such a lead can persuade possible enemies from launching attacks.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Li Bao reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

hypersonic - adj. traveling at least five times the speed of sound, sometimes called "Mach 5"

capability - n. the ability to do something

advantage - n. something (such as a good position or condition) that helps to make someone or something better or more likely to succeed than others

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