China’s carrier-based aircraft may soon be equipped with hyper-sonic weapons, thanks to the development of a new sealant that protects against storage at sea and accelerates the repair and maintenance of the game-changing armament while afloat.
The South China Morning Post reported this week that China’s carrier-based hyper-sonic weapons are like the Russian Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile, which was first used in the Ukraine war.
They can be used against air, surface and satellite targets and reach ten times the speed of sound with a range of 1,000 kilometers, as noted this month in the Chinese domestic peer-reviewed journal Aero Weaponry.
The weapon extends the strike range of China’s carrier fleet to more than 2,500 kilometers, approximately the distance east of Taiwan to Guam, which increases the threat of an ultra-fast Chinese missile attack on the strategic but increasingly vulnerable US outpost in the Pacific.
Until now, hyper-sonic weapons have not been deployed on aircraft carriers. Xiao Jun, lead researcher at the China Airborne Missile Academy, pointed out that hyper-sonic weapons are more difficult to repair at sea than conventional missiles.
They note that the critical areas of hyper-sonic weapons are shielded using high-tech material that protects against extreme flight temperatures but also allow communication signals to pass through.
However, this material is susceptible to damage during transport, storage or mounting on an aircraft. The Chinese research team pointed out that when a damaged part is exposed to ocean humidity, salt, and mold, moisture absorption, expansion, deformation, blistering, de bonding, or peeling can adversely affect the heat-resistant coating.
Past solutions required a clean ground-based room and an experienced crew with sophisticated equipment to ensure that there are no defects on the finished surface.
To solve the problem, the research team developed a new sealing material that requires only one worker to remove the damaged part, fill in gaps with the sealing gel and smooth the finished surface with a scraper.
The new technology improves the storage lifespan of hyper-sonic weapons, which the Chinese military requires to last at least a decade.
The new technology also allows for convenient field maintenance and periodic upgrades, as technicians inspect weapons and sometimes open them to enhance critical components such as infrared sensors.
The South China Morning Post reported that repairs and body heat sealing need to withstand the extreme conditions of hyper-sonic flight and adverse conditions at sea for more than ten years while allowing for ease of maintenance under rough conditions.
The sealant technology will conceivably allow China to deploy hyper-sonic weapons on a broader range of its surface combatants, giving them a potential edge over their competitors, namely the United States, in surface warfare operations.
China had tested its YJ-12 hyper-sonic weapon from one of its Type 055 cruisers, making the class one of the heaviest armed warships in the world.
Video footage from the test showed a cold-launched anti-ship ballistic missile armed with a hyper-sonic glide vehicle, with its small control surfaces suggesting it is not a surface-to-air missile.
The YJ-12 outwardly resembles China’s CM-401 high-altitude anti-ship missile, which is based on Russia’s Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile. While China has successfully tested the ship-based YJ-12, now an air-launched version could also be in the works.
In contrast, the US military will not be ready to deploy hyper-sonic weapons on its surface combatants until 2025.
The USA aims to replace the troubled Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) on its Zumwalt class destroyers with hyper-sonic missile tubes, converting the futuristic and stealthy shore bombardment platforms into blue-water strike ones.
Stressing the urgency to restore ship-based nuclear strike capability, the US Strategic Command Admiral Chas Richard noted that SLCM-N would give the USA a low-yield, non-ballistic capability that does not require visible generation to counter the tactical nuclear weapons in China and Russia’s arsenals.
However, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday criticized the idea, stating that forcing surface ships and submarines to carry nuclear-tipped missiles would detract from more pressing missions.
The US destroyer fleet is preoccupied with global deployments working alone or as part of carrier battle groups. It is expected to come under more strain as the US retires its Ticonderoga class cruisers in the coming years.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2022.