The Chinese People Liberation Army (Pla) has conducted another test launch of its new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) amid escalating tensions with the US over the disputed South China Sea.
Dubbed WU-14, the weapon reportedly performed manoeuvres that demonstrated its ability to penetrate missile defence systems. It is said to be the fourth test of the missile in the last 18 months.
Previous trials of the missile were carried out in January, August, and December 2014.
Undisclosed US defence officials claimed that the latest trial, conducted in western China, involved extreme manoeuvres by the high-speed strike weapon.
In addition, Chinese military analysts interpreted the trial as a response to a recent flight of a US P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea.
However, the Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement: "The scheduled scientific research and experiments in our territory (are) normal, and those tests are not targeted at any country and specific goals."
Capable of travelling up to ten times the speed of sound, at approximately 7,680mph, the WU-14 is claimed by US officials to be a nuclear delivery vehicle designed to defeat national missile defences that are currently able to counter ballistic missiles and warheads with predictable trajectories.
In its 2014 report, a congressional China commission stated: "Hypersonic glide vehicles could render existing US missile defence systems less effective and potentially obsolete."
Designed to be less susceptible to anti-ballistic missile countermeasures than legacy re-entry vehicles, the WU-14 is likely to be fitted to various Chinese ballistic missiles, including the DF-21 medium-range missile, as well as the DF-31 and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The proposed move is expected to extend the missiles’ ranges from 2,000km to 3,000km, and 8,000km to 12,000km, respectively.