China has claimed that its aircraft carriers would be capable of utilizing hypersonic missiles due to a breakthrough in logistics technology. The new technology will make it easier and faster for Beijing to repair and maintain hypersonic weapons, extending their lifespan.
The fleet of three aircraft carriers currently serves as the centerpiece of China’s naval forces, and more are reportedly being built. The newest, Fujian, is outfitted with a sophisticated electrically driven catapult that can launch an aircraft with a greater payload.
The jets on board the aircraft carrier will use hypersonic weapons. Xiao Jun, a researcher with the China Airborne Missile Academy in Luoyang, Henan province, told the SCMP that “they [weapons] can go after a wide range of high-value targets in the air or on the surface and can be used as anti-satellite weapons.”
In a research published in the domestic peer-reviewed journal Aero Weaponry on October 1, a team led by Xiao claimed that Beijing’s unannounced air-launched hypersonic weapons are comparable to Russia’s Kinzhal missile, the report said.
The Chinese missile reportedly has a range of over 1,000 kilometers and can travel at ten times the speed of sound (621 miles).
However, the report does not mention the specifics of the air-launched missile. According to an earlier report by the EurAsian Times, the Chinese navy released a video in April showing the YJ-21 anti-ship hypersonic missile being fired from a warship.
The missile is expected to have a range of 1,500 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 12, and a smaller version of this missile might also be launched by a fighter jet. Beijing currently operates a large fleet of J-15, or Flying Shark, aircraft from its aircraft carriers.
EurAsian Times approached Guodong Chen, a China-based defense analyst, for more details on the subject.
He told the EurAsian Times – “Russia’s hypersonic missile carrier aircraft is MiG-31, which is much larger than the J-15 fighter. The J-15 fighter plane takes off by gliding only on the aircraft carrier, which makes it difficult to carry hypersonic missiles. “
He explained that “hypersonic missiles are very expensive and have low hit accuracy in the atmosphere, which has been confirmed in Ukraine. Therefore, a hypersonic missile is not suitable for tactical attacks. It is suitable for reentry vehicles of intercontinental ballistic missiles to break through the anti-missile systems.”
“The importance of hypersonic missiles is to avoid interception, not to be competent for precision attack. The speed of the anti-satellite missile is very high, and it focuses on space beyond the atmosphere. Hypersonic missiles mainly fly in the atmosphere,” Guodong added.
Nonetheless, with an air-launched hypersonic weapon, China would be able to extend the battle range of its carrier fleet to more than 2,500 kilometers, or roughly from Taiwan’s east coast to Guam, the report added. It could also help the country to overpower the majority of air defense systems with lightning-fast air strikes.
Although there haven’t been any instances of hypersonic technology being employed aboard an aircraft carrier, it’s thought that they are more challenging to maintain or repair than conventional missiles, particularly at sea.
According to Xiao and his colleagues, the military’s rigorous field tests on an aircraft carrier and other difficult combat environments showed that their innovation for the speedy repair and service of hypersonic weapons had succeeded.
The technology, which is currently said to be exclusive to China, would be used to support “a large number of airborne missile equipment that is distributed widely in inland military bases, coastal airports and aircraft carriers in the far sea.”
Suyash Desai, who closely follows China’s defense and foreign policies, told the EurAsian Times if the current reports are true, “then this would be a big breakthrough for Chinese force modernization. It’s a well-known fact that the PLA is working on hypersonic weapons. One of the main reasons for this is that no country, including the US, has yet been able to develop weapons to defend against them.”
“Thus, if China develops the technology to install these weapons on mobile carriers, the challenge will quadruple and certainly impact the peace, security, and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. It will also escalate the ongoing arms race between the US and PRC,” he added.
However, Desai pointed out that “like all Chinese claims, this should also be taken with a pinch of salt and could only be believed when we see the evidence of a real test. But this doesn’t discount the fact that China is working in this direction.”
Why Is Such Technology Needed?
The complex reality is that depending on how the hypersonic weapons are designed, constructed, and used in combat, they can either be game-changing or completely superfluous. The upkeep and repair of these weapons are one of the most challenging issues.
The Chinese researchers explained that a hypersonic weapon’s surface temperature might reach several thousand degrees while traveling at high speed through the atmosphere.
They further added that “during extreme flight conditions, advanced materials on some of the missile’s critical surface areas are absorbed or shielded against heat while allowing communication signals to go through.”
The scientists noted that the cutting-edge coating material was vulnerable to damage while being transported, stored, or mounted to an aircraft. Furthermore, the heat-resistant coating may fail due to moisture absorption, expansion, distortion, blistering, debonding, or peeling when the damaged portion is subjected to ocean dampness, salt, and mold.
Previously, fixing these problems needed a clean room on the ground, state-of-the-art machinery, and experienced service personnel slowly and meticulously checking for bumps or leaks on the polished surface.
The Researchers claimed to have developed a technique using a special sealing substance to streamline the procedure. Only one worker was needed to take out the broken part, replace it, fill the gaps with the sealing gel, and use a scraper to smooth the hypersonic missile’s surface.
Chinese scientists explained that the novel method decreased the average service time to a tenth of the conventional approach in field testing, some of which were carried out in “poor conditions” on aircraft carriers.
The new technology would also assist in extending their life as the military wanted hypersonic weapons to last at least a decade. Throughout the long period of operation, military personnel constantly checked the condition of the weapon, occasionally opening it to swap out crucial parts for performance upgrades, such as infrared sensors.
“The body heat seal needs to be restored after each disassembly, assembly, or replacement. The repair and sealing not only need to withstand high-temperature ablation and erosion but also wind, frost, rain, snow, hail, tropical heat, salt spray, sand dust, and mold in the ocean for more than ten years while remaining convenient for the field maintenance operations under rough conditions,” Xiao’s team said. “
Such a product is currently unavailable in the market.”
With these technological advances, China could effectively attack the key US military installations, particularly Guam, in the region without having to worry about the USA’s sophisticated air defenses.