Now the arms race is threatening to revive, albeit in a new form.
The United States itself has an active hypersonic program, as does Russia and North Korea, among others. But the US program has run into its own technical problems, including a booster failure last week.
Both China and the United States have the resources to fix the bugs, and the concern of many gun control experts is that it could become a new form of competition — as President Biden has looked for ways to raise a proposed trillion dollars. modernization of US nuclear forces and delivery systems.
The fact that the Pentagon was so surprised may explain why it remained silent after the test’s unveiling. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to confirm the test after the initial report, in the Financial Times, and even after General Milley spoke, the Pentagon declined to comment.
What made the Chinese test apparently unsettling was that it combined — in a first — two well-known military technologies previously developed separately, started half a century ago.
The first part of the prototype weapon circled the globe before racing toward its target — paralleling a nuclear approach the Soviet Union had pioneered in the 1960s. Known as the fractional orbital bombing system, or FOBS, the Soviet concept was to send a warhead into partial Earth orbit before plunging back through the atmosphere to a target.
The system was seen as ideal for surprise attacks because the weapon could fly on any course – even over the South Pole – and theoretically evade radars and detection. However, the United States quickly launched warning satellites that could detect the bright flames of advancing Soviet missiles and reduce the element of surprise.
Separately, the Soviets and others worked on developing hypersonic weapons, which could fly at more than five times the speed of sound, sometimes to provide conventional weapons, not nuclear warheads.