China has created a vast underground defense complex capable of intercepting hypersonic missiles which can defeat conventional missile defenses, according to a scientist who has worked on the system and received China’s highest science and technology award last week.
Speaking with The Global Times, Qian Qihu, 82, said that China’s “Underground Steel Great Wall” could “guarantee the security of the country’s strategic arsenal” against attacks – including those from hypersonic weapons.
The “Underground Steel Great Wall” is a series of defense facilities located deep under mountains. While the mountain rock is thick enough to resist enemy attacks, entrances and exits of these facilities are often vulnerable and Qian’s work was to provide extra protection for these parts. –The Global Times
According to Qian, the system is China’s “last national defense line,” and is capable of withstanding a nuclear attack before the country responds with strategic weapons, which Qian’s work safeguarded along with launch and storage facilities and key military personnel.
“The development of the shield must closely follow the development of spears. Our defense engineering has evolved in a timely manner as attack weapons pose new challenges,” said Qian.
According to the academician, hypersonic weapons that move 10 times as fast as the speed of sound are capable of changing trajectory mid-flight and penetrate any anti-missile installations.
US media outlet CNBC reported that in March 2018 during a State of the Nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin debuted new nuclear and hypersonic weapons, which he described as “invincible.”
The US is also trying to develop hypersonic weapons, as then US Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, now acting secretary of defense, said in October. “We are going to fly sooner and more often than people have ever expected,” CNBC reported. –The Global Times
China has gone to great lengths to keep up with advanced weaponry as well as a largely unpredictable international environment, says Qian, citing the Trump administration’s consideration of a lower bar for the deployment of nuclear weapons, including low-yield nukes, as reported in January 2018 by the Wall Street Journal.
Military experts have suggested that US weapons which use low-yield nuclear warheads would be bunker-busters, with a higher surgical strike capability than conventional ground-penetrating munitions.
US is playing catch-up
As we reported in December, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the current ballistic missile defense system in the US is powerless against hypersonic missiles from China and Russia.
The missile’s speed, altitude, and maneuverability could defeat all networked sensors (including space-based) and ground- and sea-based radars; ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles; and render the Pentagon’s command, control, battle management ineffective in a hypersonic missile attack.
“China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities,” the report said.
The report admits: “There are no existing countermeasures.“
That doesn’t mean the US government is sitting on its hands. In November we reported on DARPA’s “Glide Breaker” project, which looks to knock hypersonic gliders out of the sky using a “hard-kill interceptor.”
— Steve Trimble (@TheDEWLine) September 6, 2018
So far, there are few other publicly available details about the program. In its budget request for the 2019 Fiscal Year, DARPA did not ask for any money for Glide Breaker specifically or for research and development of hypersonic defense systems broadly.
It’s also not clear how Glide Breaker may be related to the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) own hypersonic defense project, which you can read about in more detail here and also includes plans for some sort of anti-hypersonic missile weapon system. As of February 2018, MDA expected to spend more than $700 million in total on that research and development project through at least 2023 –TheDrive
On the offensive side of things, a joint program by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)/ US Army Operational Fires (OpFires) has picked a total of three defense companies to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system enabling hypersonic boost-glide weapons to penetrate the world’s most advanced air defenses and quickly and accurately engage critical time-sensitive enemy targets.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation have each received contracts to immediately start work on design and development for the next generation of propulsion systems that will power America’s hypersonic weapons, DARPA announced in November.
DARPA/OpFires program manager US Army major Amber Walker said: “OpFires represents a critical capability development in support of the Army’s investments in long-range precision fires.”
“These awards are the first step in the process to deliver this capability in support of US overmatch,” Walker added.
The system calls for a mobile ground-based launch system, plus propulsion systems that will launch hypersonic missiles at land-based targets.
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would deploy their new Avangard hypersonic glider warheads in the “coming months,” which was followed by December reports that the system had been tested and would be ready to deploy this year.
In other words, the US defense industry better hurry up.