A new research report attempts to outline China’s hypersonic vehicle (HV) development programme, and highlights key focus areas.
The report was published by the China Aerospace Studies Institute and prepared by BluePath Labs. It suggests that a 2012 book by two Chinese hypersonic experts, Cai Guabiao and Xu Dajun, provided at least some structure to China’s subsequent research into fields that pertain to HV development.
Using open sources, it observes that Chinese HV work saw a significant increase from around 2016, focusing on three areas deemed critical by Cai and Xu: scramjet engines, combined propulsion systems, and “external design and aerodynamic force numeric simulation technology.”
“The public data also suggests that China’s progress is increasingly the result of domestic efforts, rather than international collaboration or scientists who have been trained abroad,” says the report.
“Our analyses indicated that influential younger scientists only spent minimal time abroad and were only involved in a handful of collaborative projects with international institutions and scholars.”
It also indicates that the Harbin Institute of Technology and National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) – both of which are associated with the People’s Liberation Army – play key roles in China’s HV development work.
It lists prominent Chinese HV researchers and their number of collaborations with researchers from both Chinese and foreign universities.
Sun Mingbu of NUDT, for example, specialises in areas such as “supersonic combustion theory, numerical simulation methods, and methods of fuel injection, ignition, flame stabilisation and combustion organisation in scramjet engines.”
The report indicates that Sun has collaborated with researchers from universities in Australia, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Several Chinese researchers listed have collaborated with researchers in the USA.
Beijing’s hypersonic technology is of significant concern to the US and its allies. In its recent report to Congress on China’s military developments, the US Department of Defense observes that Beijing continues to develop hypersonic capabilities.
The DoD, citing a Chinese military expert, contends that Beijing has deployed the DF-17 atop a medium-range ballistic missile, and that the system is designed strike bases and fleets in the Western Pacific.
In 2021, DoD adds that China tested an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle in a fractional orbital bombardment role. During the test, the vehicle flew 21,600nm (40,000km), with a flight time of 100min.
Such a delivery system would be extremely effective at circumventing conventional ballistic missile defences.