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What are Hypersonic weapons?

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 04, Dec 2021
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Reference News:

US has said that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons "Increases tensions in the region" and vowed the U.S. would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.

What’s the issue?

  • China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia has triggered unease in Washington.
  • China’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.


Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed with a purpose of evading U.S. missile defences, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.

What are hypersonic speeds?

  • Hypersonic speeds are 5 or more times the speed of sound.

Concerns and implications for India and the world:

  • The weapon could, in theory, fly over the South Pole. That would pose a big challenge for the US military because its missile defence systems are focused on the northern polar route.
  • India is especially concerned with the latest developments considering relations with China in the recent past. Such capabilities highlight the threat for our space assets along with the surface assets.

Technology used:

The exact details on technology used by China in this particular test are not known through media sources. But most of the hypersonic vehicles primarily use the scramjet technology.

What is scramjet technology?

Scramjets are a category of engines designed to handle airflows of speeds in multiples of the speed of sound.

  • In an air-breathing scramjet engine, air from the atmosphere is rammed into the engine’s combustion chamber at a supersonic speed of more than Mach two.
  • In the chamber, the air mixes with the fuel to ignite a supersonic combustion but the cruiser’s flight will be at a hypersonic speed of Mach six to seven. So it is called supersonic combustion ramjet or Scramjet.