China's Hypersonic Test Copied From DARPA'S 1990 Project: Experts
US experts are amused by China’s mysterious hypersonic test, saying it is reminiscent of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) test on a Common Aero Vehicle and submunitions in the late 1990s.
Photo Insert: The Hypersonic race between the US and China continues.
"Calling it 'breaking the laws of physics' does not lead to rational scrutiny," Secure World's Victoria Samson said of the recent Chinese hypersonic test.
Nonetheless, Theresa Hitchens of Breaking Defense wrote on Nov. 24, 2021 that “the ongoing dribs and drabs of unclear information leaking from the Pentagon about this summer’s Chinese hypersonic test are raising red flags for physicists and experts, who are questioning whether claims about the results of the test stand up to scrutiny.”
“From a general standpoint, deploying something at hypersonic speeds, is really, really, really, really hard,” said Mark Lewis, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Institute and an expert on hypersonics.
“And if anyone were to do that, it would be super impressive.”
The basic question at hand with regard to the new report is: Could China have successfully launched a submunition from a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) while it was screaming through the atmosphere at Mach 5-plus? And the answer is, perhaps.
There is a historical analog, of sorts. Two decades ago DARPA worked on a project known as the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), which included a suborbital, hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) that could deliver conventional weapons anywhere in the world within two hours.
DARPA could never get the system to work right, however, due to a number of design problems that ran into the laws of physics, Lewis said. The effort was eventually killed in 2004 by Congress, less due to its technological problems and more out of political concerns that it was strategically destabilizing.
One key issue for deploying submunitions from HGVs is that when two vehicles are moving at above Mach 1, several scientists explained, the two objects create shock waves that can interfere and cause the submunition to bounce back into its parent vehicle, destroying both.
This actually happened, according to the Global Security website, in a 1966 test of an air-breathing drone, called the D-21 Tagboard, launched from a supersonic jet (the precursor of the SR-71).
The test resulted in a crash that killed one of the jet pilots and caused legendary Lockheed Martin engineer Kelly Johnson to terminate the program. To avoid that problem, the CAV was designed to dramatically slow down. And, it is possible that this is exactly what the Chinese HGV did too, several scientists said.