Chinese ballistic missile (illustration)
Chinese ballistic missile (illustration)Reuters

The Chinese defense ministry last Friday confirmed it had conducted a fourth successful test on a new hypersonic nuclear-capable attack vehicle, which was conducted the previous Sunday and included "extreme maneuvers" allowing it to evade US anti-missile defense systems according to experts. 

Responding to a report of the test in the Washington Free Beacon last Thursday, the Chinese ministry said, "the scheduled scientific research and experiments in our territory (are) normal, and those tests are not targeted at any country and specific goals."

The Wu-14 hypersonic strike vehicle was launched on a ballistic missile in western China; it flies high in the upper atmosphere near outer space, making it difficult to detect. It can move at blazing speeds, reaching an estimated speed of ten times the speed of sound, or about 7,680 miles per hour.

According to a congressional report from last November, the vehicle's agility and maneuverability "could render existing US missile defense systems less effective and potentially obsolete," given that the defense systems operate on predictable trajectories.

But despite the Chinese defense ministry claim that the test did not target any country or specific goals, experts say the Wu-14 test was timed to have influence as the US and China face off over Chinese aggression in the South China Sea where the Asian superpower is seeking to expand its influence.

It also came just days before Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, met top US defense officials in Washington DC late last week, reports the Washington Free Beacon.

Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong told the Hong Kong paper South China Morning Post that the test was timed with Fan's visit to express anger over American opposition to China's activities in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

"The test is aimed at helping Fan increase the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) bargaining power on the negotiation table when he deals with his US counterpart," said the expert.

Another analyst, He Qisong of Shanghai University, said the test was a political response to the US sending a P-8 surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea two weeks ago.

"The designed to penetrate US missile defense systems, meaning the PLA is capable of defending China’s territorial sovereignty,” he said. “But such a test is only a nuclear deterrence. Neither China nor the US wants to declare war over the South China Sea issues.”