Monday 18 October 2021

Is China developing 'space-based' nuclear weapons?

Apparently China recently tested (with reasonable success, aside from a lack of pin-point accuracy) a new hypersonic glide weapon that can carry a nuclear warhead. Russia apparently already has a working hypersonic (mach-9, or -20 if you believe a comment by Putin) that is ground launched and reaches a maximum altitude around 200,000 ft (I think that was the figure).

What is different about this new Chinese test is that it was launched into LEO (ie. space) before being sent gliding around the globe to its target.

Aside from being effectively unstoppable (unlike ICBMs hypersonic gliders can change direction during flight, so can't be targeted by current anti-ICBM defensive systems). Coupled with the recent massive increase in the number of Chinese ICBM silos, it seems very unlikely that the US would take direct military action against Chinese forces if there is an invasion of Taiwan. Would the US really risk sinking Chinese naval vessels and a potential escalation to nuclear conflict? After the US response (lack thereof) to the Russian annexation of Crimea, I doubt much would actually happen if/when China invades Taiwan.

Which then would allow the PLAN to access the Pacific more easily (from bases in Taiwan) and would make most of SE Asia 'toe to line' to whatever China wanted.

One question that springs to mind is whether a hypersonic glider launched into LEO is in violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (that China signed) which bans 'weapons of mass destruction' from space. Probably China will claim that the hypersonic weapon is not in breach of the treaty as long as it only carries a conventional warhead. A bit of a problem if a small nuclear warhead could be substituted at short notice...

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