Documents leaked by airman reveal China’s advanced hypersonic arms

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An internal Pentagon report from February details China’s test of a new hypersonic missile that U.S. military intelligence analysts believe will be used for both long-range land and ship attacks in a future conflict. The report, produced by the J-2 intelligence arms of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, was part of a cache of classified documents leaked in recent months by a 21-year-old National Guard airman.

The Feb. 28 report, labeled “top-secret,” states that three days earlier the Chinese military conducted a flight test of a new DF-27 missile, known as the CSS-X-24 by NATO. The missile is described as an intermediate-range, ballistic missile-class, “multi-role” hypersonic glide vehicle, or HGV.

Hypersonic missiles fly at speeds faster than Mach 5 or 3,836 miles per hour and are capable of maneuvering on the way to targets, posing a challenge for existing missile defense systems.

The report said that “preliminary analysis indicates the HGV flew for [approximately] 12 min and traveled [approximately] 2,100km,” or around 1,305 miles. That translates into an average speed of around 6,525 MPH or Mach 8.5.

“The DF-27 is designed to enhance the PRC’s ability to hold targets at risk beyond the Second Island Chain and possess[es] a high probability of penetrating U.S. [ballistic missile defenses]; land attack and anti-ship variants likely were fielded in limited numbers in 2022,” the report said.

The issue of Chinese hypersonic missiles was raised during testimony by Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The admiral told lawmakers in prepared remarks that China’s arsenal includes the new type of ultra-high missiles.

“Perhaps most stunning of all, the [People’s Liberation Army] Rocket Force continues to massively expand its arsenal of conventional and nuclear missiles, building hundreds of silos for nuclear missiles and fielding several hundred ballistic and cruise missiles,” the four-star admiral said. “This almost certainly includes a large number of hypersonic missiles, some of which may be nuclear-capable.”

The Pentagon document describing the DF-27 test was displayed during the hearing by Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, who said the maneuvering missiles would neutralize U.S. aircraft carriers and warships before they could “get into the fight” in the event of a Taiwan conflict.

Adm. Aquilino said he also needs better defenses against hypersonic missiles to defend the island of Guam, a major military hub that would play a critical role in a U.S. defense of Taiwan. The Pentagon is working on hypersonic missile defenses and Adm. Aquilino said he has urged the Pentagon to speed up building hypersonic missile defenses.

But Mr. Gaetz said the Defense Department has not made a sufficient investment in hypersonic missile defenses.

The Pentagon document was first posted on the video gamer platform Discord and reported by The Washington Post.

The National Guard airman, Jack Teixeira, was arrested last week at his Massachusetts home and charged with unauthorized removal of classified national defense information. He is suspected of leaking as many as 300 Pentagon documents.

A second classified Pentagon document on China posted online by Mr. Teixeira reveals that Beijing “almost certainly” has set up a special military unit to operate supersonic unmanned aerial spy vehicles. The WZ-8 supersonic drone is a high-altitude, rocket-powered spy plane that flies at three times the speed of sound, according to the document labeled “secret” and produced by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which analyzes spy satellite imagery.

The document includes satellite photos dated Aug. 9 of two of the drones at an airbase in eastern China. The WZ-8 is launched from an H-6M bomber and can conduct surveillance over Taiwan and South Korea at an altitude of more than 135,000 feet while traveling at around 2,300 miles per hour.

U.S. general on North Korea threat

The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea told Congress this week that the threat posed to regional and American security by North Korea continues to grow.

“Most concerning is [North Korea’s] renewed threats of nuclear destruction against the U.S. and the [Republic of Korea],” Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera said in prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

Recently, Pyongyang announced the intention to further expand its nuclear weapons and missile forces, he stated.

North Korea adopted a new nuclear-use policy in September that says nuclear weapons will be used against non-nuclear weapons states if North Korean leaders decided that those states are “colluding with nuclear states,” Gen. LaCamera said. The policy was later reinforced by Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, and other officials who confirmed the new first-use nuclear policy.

Mr. Kim, in remarks earlier this year, also announced plans for mass-producing lower-yield “tactical” nuclear weapons and building new intercontinental ballistic missiles to provide a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability.

North Korea announced last week that it had flight-tested its first new solid-fuel ICBM. Solid-fueled ICBMs can be deployed and launched much faster than liquid-fueled missiles, reducing the warning time of an attack for the U.S. and its regional allies.

Mr. Kim “believes a nuclear deterrent is the best means to preserve his regime and coerce the international community to lift sanctions,” Gen. LaCamera stated. “He is determined to operationalize his nuclear arsenal and is developing a credible second-strike capability.”

Gen. LaCamera also said North Korea is “poised” to carry out a seventh underground nuclear test, the first since 2017. “It is not a matter of ‘if’ [North Korea] will detonate another nuclear device, but ‘when,’” he said.

The four-star commander said he is concerned North Korean leaders will miscalculate or mistakenly believe that the escalation of a conflict can be controlled.

“Such a conflict could immediately become a regional conflict and have a global impact, just as Russia’s war against Ukraine has,” he said. North Korea and China, he noted, share a mutual defense treaty, the only such agreement either nation has.

Deterring North Korea will require maintaining the close U.S.-South Korean alliance and using extended nuclear deterrence and significant military preparedness for a conflict, Gen. LaCamera said.

Missile Defense Agency chief on missile threats

Foreign adversaries are building more lethal and accurate missiles that could undermine current U.S. missile defenses, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said this week.

MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill said missiles being fielded by adversaries that include more advanced ballistic, hypersonic, and cruise missiles, “making them more mobile, survivable, reliable, accurate and capable of achieving longer ranges.”

“Ballistic and hypersonic missiles capable of high velocity and heavy maneuver, and their use in large numbers and combination attacks, which may also involve cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems, could undermine the effectiveness of our missile defenses without continued development,” Adm. Hill told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee on Tuesday.

Adm. Hill said his agency is working toward a comprehensive missile defense system for Guam, where currently a battery of highly effective Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense anti-missile interceptors and sensors are deployed, along with less powerful Patriot missile defenses.

“We will expand capability and capacity as the threat evolves,” he said. “In collaboration with the Army and Navy, we are moving towards meeting an [Indo-Pacific Command] requirement for a persistent 360-degree layered defense capability on Guam against simultaneous raids of cruise, ballistic, maneuvering and hypersonic threats.”

The MDA also is in the early stages of work on what it calls “Homeland Defense Radar-Guam,” also designated the AN/TPY-6 radar. Additionally, an Aegis Guam system now being deployed will provide long-range sensing, tracking and targeting information for missile defenses that protect the island.

To counter hypersonic missile threats from China and other nations, the MDA is also developing a layered defense system that will include a “glide phase interceptor” capable of striking high-speed missiles.

“We are focusing on the proven Aegis weapon system to provide the depth-of-fire needed for a layered defense against hypersonic threats,” Adm. Hill said.

Aegis missile defenses are deployed on guided-missile warships, and also in a ground-based version known as Aegis Ashore. But the new hypersonic defenses are not expected to be deployed until 2025, Adm. Hill said.

The MDA budget request for fiscal 2024 includes $3.3 billion for improved ground-based missile defenses in Alaska and California, including $2.2 billion for a new long-range interceptor.

A total of $1.5 billion will be spent on missile defenses for Guam, including $64 million to bolster defenses of Hawaii with better air surveillance and other capabilities.

The agency also is seeking $423 million for deployment of over-the-horizon radars and nearly $5 billion to modernized space capabilities with new missile warning, missile tracking, and advanced overhead persistent infrared satellites.

— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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