China reportedly tests new ballistic weapon that flies under radar

The hypersonic glide vehicle may pose a challenge to existing defense systems.

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A US government source told The Diplomat this week that China has conducted flight tests of a missile equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Two tests of the HGV, a model known as the DF-17, took place in November and China is understood to have conducted a number of other tests of experimental HGVs throughout 2014 and 2016. The DF-17 is thought to have a range of between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers and represents a new kind of weapon system, one that the US and Russia are also developing.

HGVs are similar to traditional ballistic missile systems in that they can deliver a payload, be it conventional or nuclear, to a distant target. But HGVs fly at lower altitudes than typical ballistic missiles, meaning existing missile defense systems might initially miss them since those defense systems typically scan higher altitudes. There's a functional tradeoff, however, because when HGVs start to descend, they fly much slower than traditional ballistic missiles. Some defense systems will likely be able to take HGVs into account with a few upgrades. However, countries with less developed defense technology might not be able to deal with this new type of weapon as easily.

The source told The Diplomat that the DF-17 is expected to be put into operation in 2020.