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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Dongfeng-ZF / DF-17 Hypersonic Glide Vehicle [HGV]

DateRange (km)Notes
January 9, 20141,750 Only one keep-out zone declared. That zone was, however, identical to one of the zones for August 2014 test, strongly suggesting an identical flight path.
August 7, 2014 1,750 Probable failure.
December 2, 2014 1,750? Flight path closures but not keep-out zones declared. Flight path possibly similar to the previous two tests.
June 7, 2015 1,750 Flight path similar but not identical to August 2014 test.
August 20, 2015 2,100 Terminal maneuvering possibly planned.
November 23, 2015 1,250
April 22, 2016 1,250 Flight path identical to November 2015 test.
Dates and ranges of the seven known tests of China’s DF-ZF glider. Note that range refers to total distance, not glide distance, which is almost certainly significantly shorter.

A grand military parade was held in Beijing on 01 October 2019 to mark the People's Republic of China's 70th founding anniversary. The Dongfeng-17 conventional missile has the characteristics of all-weather, no support, strong penetration and so on, and can accurately strike the medium and short-range targets. The "strategic strike module" appeared in the October 1st 2019 parade As the first team of this module, the Dongfeng-17 conventional missile team led by Major General Zhang Jianqiang and Major General Wang Xinguo, majesticly passed Tiananmen Square and was "gloriously reviewed".

This was the first public appearance of the Dongfeng-17 conventional missile. In front of Tiananmen Square, 16 new missile warships rumbled, and "a long-handled sword stalked the sky". This new type of conventional missile can accurately strike the medium and short-range targets. Whether it is missile performance or penetration capability, it has greatly improved compared with other conventional missiles. The guided missile team was formed by two conventional missile brigades from a missile base of the Rocket Army.

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The DF-17 is a solid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile on which is mounted the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle. The missile is capable of carrying both conventional or non-conventional warheads with ranges up to 2,000 kilometers and more, achieving speeds of Mach 5. Mach 5 is the threshold to determine if an object is flying at hypersonic or supersonic speeds. In October, it was reported that the missile was deployed at China’s Fujian and Zhejiang which is right across Taiwan, amid Beijing’s tensions with the island nations.

The DF-17 is reportedly designed for use with a hypersonic glide vehicle (tested with the Wu-14 [DF-ZF]) and capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. Its range reportedly falls between 1,800 and 2,500 km. This system will pose challenges to U.S. and allied missile defense systems. The DF-17's hypersonic glide vehicle technology permits it to fly at a much lower altitude just before delivering its warhead, further frustrating attempts to detect and intercept the weapon.

China's missile manufacturing giant showcased hypersonic boost-glide vehicles in a recent animated video, and media reports speculate that the weapon might be the DF-17 of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force. Such weapons, which Russia and the US are developing, are very difficult to intercept due to their hypersonic speed and high mobility. The animated video, released by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) on its social media platform Douyin account, shows the launch of multiple boost-glide vehicles, which reenter the atmosphere and hit an underground command center. This is the first time the company has shown a simulated animation on a boost-glide vehicle, Passion News, a media outlet under k618.cn, a news portal run by the Communist Youth League of China Central Committee, reported.

A boost-glide vehicle, which is essentially a warhead, is stored in the nose of a missile, and will be released once the rocket booster sends it fast and high enough. It will then fly over the upper edge of the atmosphere, changing directions frequently, which makes it very difficult to intercept by anti-missile systems.

China is following the example of Russia and is striving to equip its own ballistic missiles with similarly planned hypersonic warheads to improve its ability to break through enemy anti-missile systems. The Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) medium-range ballistic missile was specially developed for this purpose, but similar equipment may also be manufactured for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

US Admiral Harry Harris warned Congress that China is looking to lead the global hypersonic arms race. Hypersonic vehicles are considered potential strategic game-changers. The speed would allow for greater global reach, but also could nullify current air defenses. This came on the heels of other Chinese hypersonic successes, including China's DF-17 HGV as well as various scramjet test flights and rocket-powered spaceplanes.

Michael Griffin, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) chief technology officer, noted in March 2018 that over the last decade China has conducted 20 times more hypersonic missile technology tests than the United States. In August 2018, China conducted its first “waverider” hypersonic vehicle test, which used the shock waves generated by the launch vehicle upon separation and successfully glided to its target. Chinese state-run media notably reported on the test—the first hypersonic weapon test China has publicly acknowledged.

In November 2017, the Diplomat reported that China conducted its first two ballistic missile tests using a hypersonic glide vehicle—the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile—reportedly with a range between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers (km). The DF-17 is expected to be capable of delivering nuclear and conventional payloads and may be interchangeable with a maneuverable reentry vehicle in place of a hypersonic glide vehicle. A maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) is a ballistic missile reentry vehicle that is capable of maneuvering after reentering Earth’s atmosphere, in contrast to a standard reentry vehicle, which continues on its trajectory without any course correction capability. MaRVs can be more difficult to intercept and therefore better able to penetrate adversary missile defenses. They also offer greater potential than standard reentry vehicles for striking moving targets, if configured to do so.

Since 2014, China had reportedly conducted seven other tests using its Wu-14 (DF-ZF) hypersonic glide vehicle, with six having been successful. Chinese sources report that as o fMraach 2020, the Dongfeng-ZF had been tested 8 times in succession, all of which have been successful, and the troops have been actually equipped with this weapon. China's hypersonic programs indicate the nation's getting serious about extending its economic and military reach. In addition to conventional instruments of global military power like aircraft carriers, it has invested in revolutionary technology like quantum communications, exascale supercomputers, and hypersonic aircraft.

A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have tested a hypersonic plane in a wind tunnel to speeds of Mach 7, or 5,600 miles per hour, according a paper published in the Chinese journal Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy. The project is led by Cui Kai, who's part of the Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, though the plane is likely a biproduct of research from other Chinese hypersonic programs, too, including those with military ties. For his part, Cui touted the project's peaceful uses, remarking in his article that it could fly from Beijing to New York in two hours.

The I Plane (named for its frontal resemblance to the capital letter "I") has one pair of forward swept wings on its fuselage center line as well as a pair of joined, swept delta wings mounted on top of the rear fuselage (like a giant T tail). This provides increased lift compared to more spartan, single-wing hypersonic plane designs like the Lockheed Martin SR-72 and CASIC Tengyun. That extra lift increases the I Plane's payload-to-takeoff-weight ratio, though the increased weight of the bonus wings would likely require more powerful low-speed engines. The I Plane's wings are positioned so that the shockwaves from sonic booms (which can cause turbulence and drag) are redirected to improve flight performance and stability.

China's Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics had another hypersonic breakthrough in the works: a record-breaking wind tunnel that will reportedly begin operations in 2020. It's designed to produce speeds of up to Mach 36, making it the world's most powerful wind tunnel, overtaking the Mach 30 LENX-X facility in Buffalo, New York. For reference, a Mach 36 aircraft would fly from China to California in just 14 minutes, if it could remain within the atmosphere, rather than zooming off into outerspace, recognizing that orbital velocity is merely Mach 24. The Timberwind particle bed reactor interceptor concept of the 1990s tried without much luck to achieve this stunt. The Apollo spacecraft were content to fly from the Earth to the Moon.

China upgraded its DF-17 hypersonic ballistic missile system, with the latest images showing a new transporter erector launcher (TEL), state-owned Global Times reported in January 2020. The new TEL would enhance the survivability of the DF-17 against enemy surveillance systems. A video released on the occasion of the fifth founding anniversary of PLA’s Rocket Force on 07 January 2020 had shown the upgraded DF-17 missile system. In the footage, the TEL was shown moving in the desert terrain with an integrated cover for the missile, according to Global Times. A transporter erector launcher (TEL) is a missile vehicle with an integrated prime mover (tractor unit) that can carry, elevate to firing position and launch one or more missiles.

The earlier TELs for DF-17 showed the missile ‘as-it-is’ on the top, exposed, while the newer one has it all covered and camouflaged. It enhances the system’s survivability against enemy surveillance systems and aerial strikes. Although the video did not offer any clue whether the new vehicle was indeed related to the DF-17, a Shanghai-based news website eastday.com identified it as an upgraded version of the DF-17 hypersonic missile. A report by the China Central Television (CCTV) said the new ‘weapon’ was first shown in the 2019 military-day parade. Interestingly, the DF-17 also made its debut at the same parade in 2019. Therefore, one could safely assume that the missile system shown in the video is the hypersonic DF-17.

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Page last modified: 25-10-2021 15:27:24 ZULU