In a world where technological supremacy can completely change the balance of power, China claims to have unveiled revolutionary advances in radar technology.

Chinese researchers have unveiled a radar system so advanced it can simultaneously track not one, but ten hypersonic missiles, each hurtling through the atmosphere at a mind-boggling Mach 20 – it Twenty times the speed of sound.

A team led by Professor Zheng Xiaoping from Tsinghua University’s Electronic Engineering Department claims to have developed a radar system with remarkable capabilities that can distinguish between real and false targets.

The newly developed microwave photonic radar has a detection range of over 600 km. Its compact and lightweight design makes it suitable for integration into air defense missiles or aircraft.

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Has this test been successful?

Ground-based simulations have shown impressive results regarding system effectiveness. The radar demonstrated exceptional accuracy, with a margin of error of only 28 cm (11 in) when estimating the distance of a missile moving at about 7 km (4.3 mi) per second.

It also achieved 99.7 percent accuracy in determining the missile’s trajectory, a feat previously thought unattainable. The findings were published May 24 in the Chinese journal Optical Communication Technology.

What makes this radar revolutionary?

The innovation lies in the use of radar ‘lasers’ to transmit information between critical components at light speeds. This approach overcomes the limitations of conventional radar systems, where high-speed electron movement can potentially damage circuit boards.

By incorporating photonics, the new radar can generate and process more complex microwave signals, making accurate measurements of high-speed objects possible for the first time.

According to defense experts, China’s new radar technology is a response to the hypersonic missile tests conducted by the US Air Force on Guam in March.

US Launches Hypersonic Missile in China’s ‘Red Zone’ B-52 Bomber Test-Fire AGM-183A ARRW from Guam

US tests hypersonic weapons in Guam

United States Conducted Hypersonic weapons tests in Guam, aimed at undermining China’s lead in the technology. In March, a B-52 bomber launched an air-launched rapid response weapon (ARRW) from Guam in the western Pacific.

Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183A ARRW, which can exceed Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) are at the forefront of American hypersonic technology. Lockheed Martin reported successful completion of the test and readiness for rapid delivery to the Air Force.

Unlike ballistic missiles, which can be countered by advanced defense systems, the agility and maneuverability of hypersonic weapons make them more elusive targets.

The ARRW system consists of a rocket booster and a hypersonic glide vehicle carrying a conventional warhead. It is designed to hit time-sensitive, high-value ground targets.

Hypersonic weapons present greater interception challenges than conventional ballistic missiles due to their high speeds and unpredictable flight paths, allowing them to bypass air defense systems.

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Some Western military analysts saw the test as a direct response to China, demonstrating the US military’s ability to target Chinese coastal cities with highly penetrating weapons.

A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, highlighted that one of the Pentagon’s main concerns is developing a fire control radar capable of tracking hypersonic targets for interceptor missile systems. .

Return of B-2 Spirit bombers to Guam

In June 2024, the US Air Force reintroduced B-2 Spirit stealth bombers to areas around China for the first time in five years. Several B-2s were deployed to the Pacific for joint exercises involving Guam, Palau, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The US redeploys its “deadliest” aircraft near China, which is stealthy, nuclear-capable and superior to F-22 Raptors.

The B-2 Spirit is a powerful aircraft with four General Electric F118-GE-100 turbofans, each producing 17,300 pounds of thrust. These engines enable the bomber to achieve a speed of Mach 0.95 and a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles without refueling. Capable of reaching high subsonic speeds and operating at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, the B-2’s range extends to 10,000 nautical miles with aerial refueling.

The distinctive design of the bomber integrates various subsystems into a streamlined, low-observation airframe. This configuration significantly reduces its acoustic, infrared, visual, and radar signatures, making the B-2 one of the most survivable aircraft in the world.

B-21 Raider nuclear stealth bomber

Not content to rely on the glories of the past, America has unveiled its latest piece on board – the B-21 Raider. This next-generation stealth bomber is designed to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, with the added twist of possible unmanned operations.

In May 2024, the US Air Force unveiled the first images of its newest nuclear stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider. The aircraft is set to replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers. The B-21 has a top speed of about 1,000 km/h (620 mph) and a top speed of about 600 mph (about Mach 0.78).

B 21 Raider 1
The B-21 Raider conducts flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, including ground testing, taxiing and flying operations. Courtesy photo

The B-21 recently completed its inaugural test flight. It is expected to enter service within the next few years, marking the first addition of a new bomber to the U.S. fleet in nearly three decades. The previous bomber, the B-2, was developed during the 1980s and 90s.

The B-21 incorporates advanced stealth technology used in the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets. This technology minimizes the aircraft’s detection through its shape and construction materials, increasing its ability to evade enemy detection systems.

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Hypersonic Missiles vs. Stealth Fighters: What’s the Biggest Threat to China?

In this aerial arms race, two technologies stand out: hypersonic missiles and stealth fighters. Hypersonic missiles, traveling at speeds that make the fastest fighter jets seem like they are standing still, present a nightmare for defense systems.

Hypersonic missiles operate at speeds of Mach 5 and above, with some reaching Mach 20. This extreme speed significantly reduces the reaction time of radar systems and defense mechanisms.

The U.S. AGM-183A hypersonic missile reportedly has a top speed of over 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h), equivalent to Mach 20.

Another example of a Mach 5+ hypersonic missile is the Russian-made Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle. Moscow claims the Avangard weighs about 2,000 kg and travels at Mach 20-27, or about 32,000 km/h.

Hypersonic missiles can perform unpredictable maneuvers and travel at varying altitudes, making it difficult for radar systems to estimate their trajectory or detect them using conventional methods designed for low-altitude targets. becomes

Stealth fighters, on the other hand, rely on their ability to remain invisible to radars with a limited radar cross section. Although stealth fighters can maneuver, their flight paths are generally more predictable than hypersonic missiles, it is assumed.

Given the capabilities described for China’s radar system, distinguishing between real and false targets between hypersonic missiles arriving at Mach 20 suggests a very advanced detection system.

In this aerial arms race, hypersonic missiles and stealth fighters represent two distinct threats. Hypersonic missiles, with their extreme speed and unpredictable trajectory, pose a significant challenge to even the most sophisticated radar systems. Stealth fighters, while slow, rely on their ability to remain undetected.

China's DF-17 hypersonic missile
File Image: China’s DF-17 hypersonic missile

Result

Two important aspects emerge from this technological arms race.

First, the strategic importance of seemingly insignificant Pacific islands cannot be overstated. Guam, Palau, and the Northern Mariana Islands, which are not just tropical paradises, have become important in the geopolitical chess game between China and the United States.

These remote locations serve as important outposts for military exercises, weapons testing, and power projection in the Asia-Pacific region. Their strategic value far exceeds their size, highlighting how even the smallest regions can play a major role in global security dynamics.

Second, the ongoing struggle between the superpowers over hypersonic weapons and their countermeasures heralds a new era of warfare technology. As China unveils its advanced radar system and the United States advances hypersonic missile tests, we are witnessing a growing era of offensive and defensive innovation.

The race not only demonstrates the relentless pursuit of military superiority, but also raises important questions about global stability and the future of conflict. The development of these ultra-fast, highly maneuverable weapons and the radar systems designed to track them could fundamentally change the calculus of deterrence and defense strategies around the world.

  • Shobhangi Palve is a defense and aerospace journalist. Before joining Eurasian Times, she worked for ET Prime. In this capacity, he focused on defense strategies and covering the defense sector from a financial perspective. She brings over 15 years of extensive experience in the media industry spanning print, electronic and online domains.
  • Contact the author at shubhapalve (at) gmail (dot) com.



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