China’s Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test

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    • China in August tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that circled the globe before speeding towards its target. 
      • It was claimed by a report in the London-based Financial Times, citing various sources.

    Test as Per the Report

    • The Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle, which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target. 
      • Hypersonic speeds are 5 or more times the speed of sound (5 Mach)
    • The weapon was developed by: 
      • China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA)
        • It is under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
        • It makes missile systems and rockets for China’s space programme. 
      • Both sources reportedly said the vehicle was launched on a Long March rocket, which is used for the space programme.
    • According to some, the missile missed its target by about 24 miles, 
      • But on the contrary, others said that the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far very advanced 

     Implications for the World

    • Increase the Chinese Reach:
      • The weapon could in theory fly over the South Pole. 
    • Challenge to US hegemony:
      • This would pose a big challenge for the US military because its missile defence systems are focused on the northern polar route.
    • Display of Advanced Technology Capabilities of China:
      • Most military powers in the world are in the process of developing hypersonic systems.
    • Display Chinese preparedness for next-gen warfare:
      • The US, Russia and China are developing hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles.
        • They are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum.

    Implications for India due to Chinese Success in Hypersonic Technology

    • Security: 
      • China needs to be watched closely by the world, especially India considering relations with China in the recent past.
      • The offence system operating at these speeds would mean a requirement to develop defence systems at these speeds.
    • Space Infrastructure: 
      •  Such capabilities might pose a threat to our space assets along with the surface assets.

    India’s Hypersonic Vehicle Program and readiness for Space warfare

    • India too is working on hypersonic technologies
      • India’s DRDO and ISRO have tested hypersonic vehicles.
    • Last September, DRDO successfully flight-tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV).
      • It has the capability to travel at 6 times the speed of sound
      • A solid rocket motor of Agni missile took it to an altitude of 30 km where the cruise vehicle separated as planned. 
      • The hypersonic combustion was sustained and the cruise vehicle continued on its desired flight path for more than 20 seconds.
      • Most of the missile tests are conducted from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex at APJ Abdul Kalam island off the coast of Odisha.
        • It was previously known as Wheeler Island.
    • An advanced Hypersonic Wind Tunnel (HWT) test facility of the DRDO was inaugurated in Hyderabad. 
      • It is a pressure vacuum-driven, enclosed free jet facility that simulates Mach 5 to 12.
    • As far as space assets are concerned, India has already proved its capabilities through the test of ASAT.
    • Most hypersonic vehicles primarily use scramjet technology
      • It is an extremely complex technology, which also needs to be able to handle high temperatures.
        • These all make hypersonic systems extremely costly. 
      • Scramjets are a category of engines designed to handle airflows of speeds in multiples of the speed of sound.

    Conclusion and Way Forward

    • India and the world must be very careful of Chinese Intent as transparency and accountability are least expected from the communist regime in China.
    • China is growing leaps and bounds in cutting edge technology and hence India too must take inspiration from the same.
      • Both got their independence at almost the same time yet China is now asserting itself as Global Power.

    Air Breathing Engine

    • Air-breathing engines use oxygen from the atmosphere in the combustion of fuel. 
      • These launch vehicles carry oxidisers along with the fuel for combustion to produce thrust.
    • A propulsion system that utilises atmospheric oxygen considerably reduce the total propellant required to place a satellite in orbit

    Types of Air Breathing engines

    • Ramjet
      • It is a form of air-breathing jet engine that uses the vehicle’s forward motion to compress incoming air for combustion without a rotating compressor.
      • Ramjets work most efficiently at supersonic speeds 
      • They are not efficient at hypersonic speeds.
    • Scramjet
      • A scramjet engine is an improvement over the ramjet engine 
      • It efficiently operates at hypersonic speeds and allows supersonic combustion.
    • Dual Mode Ramjet (DMRJ)
      • A dual-mode ramjet (DMRJ) is a type of jet engine where a ramjet transforms into a scramjet over Mach 4-8 range, 
      • It can efficiently operate both in subsonic and supersonic combustion modes.

    Speed Range

    Velocity (in m/s)

    Mach Number

    Subsonic

    <274

    < 0.8

    Transonic

    274-412

    0.8-1.2

    Supersonic

    412-1715

    1.2-5

    Hypersonic

    1715-3430

    5-10

    High- Hypersonic

    3430-8507

    10-25

    Source: IE