13th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition on Sept. 29, 2021 in Zhuhai
China Security and Risk Tracker
17 min read

MERICS China Security and Risk Tracker


Focus Topic: China’s hypersonic tests stoke the new arms race

China conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer that showed it has a new weapons capability. According to reports, China launched a rocket that used a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) to propel a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) round the earth for the first time. The tests reportedly caught Western intelligence services and militaries by surprise.1

Beijing has denied the tests took place, claiming it merely conducted a routine space plane launch in July. Regardless of the precise technical specifications, the tests were highly significant. They showed Beijing has made rapid progress on hypersonic systems, and that it may already have the capabilities to evade the United States’ missile defense systems.

Its new capabilities do not indicate a change in China’s no-first use doctrine, nor do they dramatically change the dynamics of deterrence between the US and China. Nonetheless, they could have serious implications for strategic stability and the balance of power, not just in the Indo-Pacific but globally. Beijing’s tests will accelerate the ongoing arms race and are likely to contribute to the erosion of the existing international arms control architecture.