China’s aircraft carriers will be able to use hypersonic weapons traditionally launched from aircraft thanks to advancements in logistics technology that simplify and speed up the repair and maintenance of the weapons, according to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) researchers.
China’s air-launched hypersonic missiles, the specifics of which were not disclosed by the research team, have similarities to Russia’s Kinzhal missile, which can reach 10 times the speed of sound over a range of 1,000 km. (621 miles), the research team wrote in a paper published in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal Aero Weaponry on October 1.
"China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise,” according to the Financial Times.
"China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.”the Financial Times
China has been working on these missiles for decades. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2019 China Military Power Report, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “is developing a range of technologies to counter the US and other countries' ballistic missile defense systems, including maneuverable reentry vehicles (MARVs), MIRVs [multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles], decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding and hypersonic glide vehicles.”
Chinese tests of hypersonic weapons
In April, China launched its “YJ-21” or “Eagle Strike 21” hypersonic anti-ship missile, said to be designed to target aircraft carriers, in what seems to be a show of Beijing's naval capabilities in a warning to the US Navy.
In a video clip of the apparent launch, the YJ-21 is shown being launched from a Type 055 vessel, a guided-missile destroyer said to be the largest, most advanced destroyer in China’s fleet.
On 1 October 2019, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in a parade that reviewed the PLA’s troops and weapon systems, the army revealed a new hypersonic missile, the Dong Feng (DF) 17.
A PRC blog devoted to military affairs described the DF-17 as a “combat-ready hypersonic weapon.”
China is investing heavily in heat-seeking hypersonic weapons, claiming that they "will be able to hit a moving car at five times the speed of sound" with a new system that is set to deploy by 2025, according to scientists involved in the project.
China's hypersonic weapons can attack a wide range of high-value targets both in the air and on the ground, and can even be used as anti-satellite weapons, according to the team led by Xiao Jun, a researcher with the China Airborne Missile Academy in Luoyang, Henan province.
Advancements in Missile logistics
Xiao and his team claimed that their advancements could assist in the quick repair and service of hypersonic weapons, and had passed stringent field tests conducted by the military in an aircraft carrier environment and other challenging combat settings.
Hypersonic weapons are more difficult to maintain than missiles traditionally launched from the ground, with these difficulties proving to be much more challenging at sea. To date, there have been no reports of hypersonic technology being used on an aircraft carrier, according to the South China Morning Post.
The technology would serve “a large number of airborne missile equipment that is distributed widely in inland military bases, coastal airports and aircraft carriers in the far sea,” according to the team.
The hi-tech coating material of the weapons is susceptible to damage during transport, storage, or mounting to an aircraft. Tending to these damages usually required a sterile ground-based room with advanced equipment, and an experienced service crew ensuring there were no defects on the finished surface.
“When the damaged part is exposed to the ocean humidity with salt and mold, failures such as moisture absorption, expansion, deformation, blistering, debonding or peeling can occur to the heat-resistant coating,” the researchers said.
The new method developed by the research team entails using a unique sealing material to both simplify and shorten the process, leaving much less room for error and reducing the average service time to a tenth of the traditional approach, according to the team.
The new method required only a single worker to remove the damaged component, put in a replacement, fill the gaps with the sealing material and smooth the surface of the hypersonic missile with a scraper.
“The body heat seal needs to be restored after each disassembly, assembly, or replacement. The repair and sealing not only need to withstand high-temperature ablation and erosion, but also wind, frost, rain, snow, hail, tropical heat, salt spray, sand, dust and mold in the ocean for more than 10 years while remaining convenient for the field maintenance operations under rough conditions,” Xiao’s team said, adding that “such a product is currently unavailable in the market.”