Beijing on Monday denied reports that said it recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in space. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said China tested a space vehicle to see if it could be reused, not a missile.
“This was a routine test of a space vehicle to verify the technology of their reusability,” Zhao said. He added that the test was done to see if China could “provide a cheap and convenient method for humans to peacefully travel to and from space.”
The alleged hypersonic missile test was reported by the Financial Times. Citing five unnamed people “familiar with the test,” the report said the test demonstrated “advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.”
Despite China’s denial, the report has spread through Western media, and US officials are commenting on the rumored test. Whether it’s true or not, the report benefits US military leaders and politicians who are pushing for more military spending to counter China.
A common talking point in Washington is that China is poised to outcompete the US when it comes to the development of advanced weapons technology unless more money is spent. Frank Kendall, the secretary of the Air Force, has said he wants to develop weapons that would “scare” China.
Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound or about 3,853 miles per hour. The US has been developing such missiles and tested one at the end of September that used an air-powered engine known as a scramjet. The scramjet is considered an “air-breathing engine” because it uses the collision of onrushing air molecules to combust fuel, but it has to be already moving at high speed to work.