China Conducts First Successful Hypersonic Aircraft Test as It Competes With Russia and U.S. for Military Supremacy

On Tuesday, China announced it had successfully tested its first hypersonic aircraft. It could penetrate even the most advanced missile defense system, thanks to its ability to fly six times faster than the speed of sound. The successful test was a major breakthrough for China, as it is racing against both Russia and the U.S. to develop hypersonic aircraft and missile technology.

The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics announced the test was a "complete success," and posted photos on its social media channels.

Russia had announced earlier in 2018 that it had also successfully tested hypersonic missiles. On the same day China allegedly held its first successful test of hypersonic aircraft, Russia announced that a fighter jet armed with hypersonic missiles would hold a demonstration later this month outside Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has often boasted of his country's advanced weapons technology, and released a video of Russia's hypersonic missile program just days after July's meeting with President Donald Trump in Helsinki.

In response to Tuesday's announcements, the top nuclear commander of the U.S., Air Force General John Hyten, said neither Russia and China are friends to the U.S., as they are working to develop advanced weapons that can penetrate U.S. missile defense systems.

"You can't call them [Russia and China] our friends if they're building weapons that can destroy the United States of America, and, therefore, we have to develop the capability to respond," Hyten said during an event in Alabama on Tuesday.

The second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket accelerate after being launch from NASA's B-52B. China said Tuesday it had successfully tested a hypersonic aircraft for the first time. Tom Tschida/Nasa Photo/Getty Images

The U.S. is currently in the process of developing its own hypersonic weapons and new defenses against them, Hyten noted. The first successful tests of hypersonic aircraft were completed in the U.S. in 2010.

Military experts claim that hypersonic missiles are still incapable of evading U.S. missile defense systems like the U.S. Patriot, but that both Russia and China are working to develop weapons that could eventually overcome U.S. defenses. India, Australia, and the U.K. are also working to develop hypersonic technology, but their development programs are not as advanced.

Hypersonic technology does not have to be used only for military purposes, and at least one aircraft company is working on designs that would take commercial passengers on international flights. Boeing says its hypersonic passenger plane, when completed, could potentially bring passengers from New York to London in just two hours.

"There is an inherent value in speed," Kevin Bowcutt, a hypersonic expert at Boeing, said when the company announced the project during an event in June.