China has launched a new craft into space that the US warns could be a satellite-crushing weapon.
Beijing blasted the Shijian 21 satellite into orbit on Sunday aboard a Long March rocket, saying the mission will test ‘technologies to… neutralise space debris’.
But Washington says the same technology can be used to ‘grapple’ and destroy other satellites and is part of China’s strategy to achieve ‘superiority through space-attack systems’.
The launch was revealed just before Xi Jinping spoke at a military conference in Beijing this week, telling scientists to ‘break new ground’ in developing weapons to create a ‘world class’ army. Xi, who has overseen a major overhaul of China’s military since taking power in 2012, hailed progress made over the last five years – saying new technology has been essential to enhancing the country’s military might.
As well as the Shijian 21 satellite, China is thought to have launched a new kind of hypersonic missile into space that analysts believe could be tipped with a nuke.
Beijing is believed to have tested the weapon twice over the summer, once in July and again in August. The tests were only revealed last week after intelligence sources disclosed the information to journalists. Those charged with assessing the new ‘weapons’ are still struggling to work out exactly what it is capable of, buy say it appears to ‘defy the laws of physics’ and goes beyond anything the US has developed.
The craft that China launched orbited the Earth at high speed before coming down on a target which it missed by some 24 miles, analysts said.
Based on that information, it appears to be similar to a Cold War-era Soviet nuclear system called FOBS which is designed to evade nuclear defences.