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Scramjet test points to progress in China's hypersonic weapon development programme

China’s Institute of Mechanics recently conducted a successful ground-test of a scramjet engine that ran for 600 seconds, the institute said in a statement, which has subsequently been removed from its website.

Scramjets, also known as supersonic combustion ramjets, are a key technology that can be used to power missiles and aircraft in hypersonic flight, which is defined as speeds in excess of Mach 5.

China has an extensive hypersonic flight research programme that involves many institutes and considerable investment in facilities, including wind tunnels capable of simulating conditions in flight at up to Mach 25.

At the National Day military parade held in Beijing in October 2019, China’s People’s Liberation Army displayed for the first time a hypersonic missile that is reportedly in service. Called DF-17, the weapon is assessed to be a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) that is launched using a solid-fuelled rocket motor, which separates from the payload at the highest point of ascent. The payload then falls back to Earth at hypersonic speed in a controlled glide, following a very different and unpredictable trajectory when compared to that of a ballistic missile.

The range of an HGV depends on the apogee of the launch trajectory. However, an alternative concept is to design a hypersonic cruise missile, which would achieve greater ranges by powering the missile in the hypersonic phase of flight.

In August 2018 China tested a powered hypersonic vehicle called the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) which was launched vertically using a rocket motor, but after separation was powered by its own propulsion system at speeds approaching Mach 6.

The state-owned China Daily

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