China announced on August 5, 2018, it has successfully completed the first flight test of its newly developed hypersonic flight vehicle also known as the “wave-rider”. According to Chinese officials, the aircraft is based on sonic wave-riding technology and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads as well as eluding any current-generation missile defense system. The launch test of the prototype reportedly saw it glide at more than five times the speed of sound.
The experimental hypersonic flight vehicle, Xingkong-2 or Starry Sky-2 (also referred to as Sky Star-2 in various sources), was designed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) under the state-owned China Aerospace and Technology Corporation. It was launched in an undisclosed test site in northwest China on August 3, 2018, Chinese Global Times reports.
According to Chinese media, the wave-rider successfully separated from its launch vehicle and continued on autonomous flight executing multiple large-angle maneuvers. During its 10 minute flight, the aircraft reached the altitude of about 18.6 miles (30 km) maintaining speeds at Mach 5.5-6 or 4,563 miles per hour (7,344 km/h) for more than 400 seconds, state news agency Xinhua reported. During the test flight, the wave-rider is said to have also tested a host of new technologies, including a domestically developed heat-balance thermal protection system.
The wave-rider is a hypersonic aircraft that uses shock waves generated by its own flight as a lifting force to improve its lift-to-drag ratio. It is capable of carrying a conventional or nuclear payload and can use its own immense kinetic energy to hit and destroy a target evading any existing anti-missile defense systems.
Current-generation defense systems used by militaries around the world can only intercept cruise and ballistic missiles, which fly at lower speeds and have easily predictable trajectories. According to Chinese military experts, the home-made hypersonic flight vehicle would be capable of breaking through these defenses precisely due to its high speed and unpredictable trajectory.
According to Asia Times, the experimental flight vehicle is loosely based on the first wave-rider prototype – North American XB-70 Valkyrie – the largest and fastest bomber ever built by the U.S. The prototype, developed in the 1960s, was a massive six-engine jet capable of reaching Mach 3 speeds at an altitude of 13 miles (21 km). It was nearly impossible to intercept. The prototype version was to be developed into the B-70, a nuclear-armed deep-penetration strategic bomber, but due to its expensive cost, lack of mission flexibility, as well as the disastrous crash of the second XB-70 prototype, the planned B-70 was never built.