June 28, 2014
Should New Delhi be concerned about Beijing's growing military might?
Last week I discussed in these pages five Indian weapons of war China should fear. This week it’s time to turn the tables and lose the Twitter followers I gained after the article’s publication.
As I noted previously, the mountainous terrain on the Chinese-Indian border makes a land war difficult to prosecute and relatively easy to defend. The decisive war would take place at sea as India--sitting astride the shipping lanes providing a significant part of China’s energy--could set up a naval blockade and essentially strangle Beijing’s economy. China would have to sortie the People’s Liberation Army Navy into the Indian Ocean to break the blockade.
That having been said, China has ways to asymmetrically attack India and fight across multiple domains of conflict to entice India to back down. Beijing’s large fleet of conventionally armed ballistic missiles could be used to bombard Indian territory and compel India to a ceasefire. China could even argue that as an Indian blockade harms China’s economy, Indian economic targets, such as factories, refineries, and energy reserves would be fair game. Beijing’s ongoing development of hypersonic weapons will add a new level of complexity to such an attack.
Once again, such analysis is not meant to suggest that war between China and India is likely, or even practical but an understanding of such weapon systems is important. That having been said, let’s take a look at some Chinese weapons that would stand out during such a conflict.
WU-14 Hypersonic Weapon System
On January 9th China tested a completely new type of weapon, one capable of blistering speeds. The weapon, a WU-14 boost glide hypersonic weapon system,was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province.
Hypersonic weapons were conceived by the Bush administration after 9/11 as a way to strike time-sensitive targets such as terrorist meetings or weapons of mass destruction. Hypersonic weapons travel between Mach 5 and 10, or 3,840 to 7,680 miles an hour. The kinetic energy of object traveling at hypersonic speeds makes a high explosive warhead optional.
American research into hypersonic weapons has spawned Russian, Indian and Chinese development efforts. Before the January 9th test China was known to have a hypersonic program, but little was known about what direction it was taking.
China’s test involved using the so-called “boost glide” method to get to hypersonic speeds. The test likely involved a hypersonic weapon strapped on top of a repurposed DF-21 intermediate range ballistic missile. The weapon was then boosted high into the atmosphere and glided back to Earth at hypersonic speeds. Hypersonic weapons are very difficult to develop, but China’s test was reportedly considered at least a limited success.