The rapid development of hypersonic technologies is quickly reshaping the global arms landscape, with China emerging as a frontrunner in this field. Over the past year, Beijing has unveiled two new hypersonic weapons from its arsenal: the DF-27 and an air-launched variant of the YJ-21, positioning itself as a global leader in hypersonic capabilities.

This development has spurred a race among nations, notably the United States and Russia, to catch up with China’s advancements in hypersonic weaponry. As these hypersonic systems promise numerous advantages over traditional ballistic missiles, the international community is witnessing a surge in interest in the acquisition and development of these cutting-edge technologies, particularly Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs).

However, in the midst of this technological arms race, a fundamental question arises: How will the proliferation of hypersonic capabilities reshape the dynamics of global military power and strategic balance?

China’s Hypersonic Dominance

According to news reports, China’s recent achievements in hypersonic technologies reflect its ambition and growing technological prowess. In July last year, the successful test flight of the Feitian 1 hypersonic air vehicle powered by a kerosene-fueled combined-cycle engine marked a significant milestone. Furthermore, Beijing’s display of the H-6K bomber carrying the YJ-21 variant, armed with two YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missiles and two YJ-21s, demonstrated the nation’s commitment to developing versatile and lethal hypersonic weapons.

The MD-22, a hypersonic unmanned combat aerial vehicle, was initially showcased at the Zhuhai Air Show 2022:

A notable contender is the Chinese MD-22, a hypersonic unmanned air vehicle with a range of 8,000 km and a speed of Mach 7. Though details remain scarce, this system underscores China’s dedication to advancing its hypersonic capabilities, as highlighted in the Hypersonic Systems 2023 Key Developments Report by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

Global Interest and Competition

The allure of hypersonic weapons lies in their distinct advantages over traditional ballistic missiles. Their higher speeds, unpredictable trajectories, and maneuverability make them challenging to intercept using existing missile defense systems. Recognizing this potential, various nations, including Canada, China, France, the UK, and the US, are investing in the development of hypersonic uncrewed air systems for diverse roles, from intelligence and surveillance to strike capabilities.