According to team leader Yang Xiaogong of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force University of Engineering in Xian, progress has been made toward developing a new hypersonic missile capable of targeting small mobile targets precisely enough to hit a moving car.
He emphasised that “significant progress” had been made in resolving the main problem of pinpointing moving targets at high speeds, which had previously been thought to be unsolvable. The scientists said in a study for the peer-reviewed journal Infrared and Laser Engineering that because hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound, even minor positioning or guidance errors can result in missiles striking far off target.
A car-sized moving target’s infrared signal is “only a few pixels without specific information such as shape, texture, and structure,” making identification and tracking “very difficult.” Another challenge is that infrared sensors demand cold surroundings, making them difficult to incorporate onto missiles that are hundreds of degrees hotter than typical when travelling at hypersonic speeds. Despite this, the researchers expressed optimism that a missile of this type may be created by 2025.
Although Russia was the first to develop hypersonic technologies, China is now widely regarded as the world’s leader. Some of its notable weapons systems include the WZ-8 drone, the world’s only hypersonic aircraft, an unnamed intercontinental range hypersonic glide vehicle that US officials were particularly concerned about testing, and the DF-17, the world’s only ground-launched tactical missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle for three years.
While Russia and, more recently, North Korea have made progress in the field, the United States has yet to produce any hypersonic glide vehicles, while its European allies are far behind and will rely on American technologies to eventually create their own arsenals.
While a ballistic missile capable of launching from Chinese destroyer and submarine cells is projected to be among the next hypersonic weapons to reach service, a highly precise air-launched infrared guided hypersonic weapon might be a game changer for the PLA Air Force and naval aviation. According to team leader Yang, the potential to remove vital targets, including individual vehicles and people, from great distances at hypersonic speeds would “substantially broaden the spectrum of application of hypersonic weapons in a regional battle.”
High speeds are particularly valuable for reducing a target’s reaction time and making missiles far more difficult to intercept, though the speed of their impact against naval targets adds significantly to the damage done. Yang mentioned that his team has developed a novel identification and tracking technology that would allow for highly precise engagement of moving objects on unexpected trajectories, such as an automobile that could turn at any point. This was accomplished by adjusting every pixel using data from motion sensors, resulting in a sharper, more steady background that made targets stand out more clearly.
According to the scientists at Xian, hardware innovations like as improvements in sensor technologies that allow heat signals to be detected as a distinct wave form across extended distances to provide crisp images at hypersonic speeds were critical to accelerate progress in the field. Breakthroughs were also made in finding alternatives for diamonds and precious metals traditionally used in infrared seekers that could withstand the harsh environments caused by travel at speeds exceeding Mach 5 while costing a fraction of the price.
A hypersonic precision strike munition might be fitted to a variety of PLA combat aircraft, including the JH-XX strike fighter and H-20 strategic bomber, both of which are presently under development, as well as future J-20 stealth fighter variants. Since the late 2010s, China has steadily led the world in developing new weapons technologies, there’s a good chance it’ll be the first by several years to produce ultra-precise infrared guided hypersonic missiles.