China carried out the first flight-tests of a new kind of ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in November. The DF-17 is the first hypersonic glide vehicle-equipped missile intended for operational deployment ever tested.
During the November 1 test flight, which took place from the Jiuquan Space Launcher Center in Inner Mongolia, the missile’s payload flew to a range of approximately 1,400 kilometers with the HGV flying at a depressed altitude of around 60 kilometers following the completion of the DF-17’s ballistic and reentry phases.
HGVs begin flight after separating from their ballistic missile boosters, which follow a standard ballistic trajectory to give the payload vehicle sufficient altitude.
The DF-17 is a medium-range system, with a range capability between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers. The missile is expected to be capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional payloads and may be capable of being configured to deliver a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV.
The DF-17, per current U.S. intelligence assessments, is expected to reach initial operating capability around 2020.
The United States and Russia are also developing hypersonic glider technology, but neither country is known to have flight-tested a system in a configuration intended for operational deployment to date.
Hypersonic gliders, by virtue of their low-altitude flight, present challenges to existing radar sensor technology enabling missile defenses.