China has begun construction on the world’s fastest wind tunnel, a device that would allow the country to test hypersonic aircraft capable of challenging the U.S.’s own ultra-high-speed attack power and give Beijing an edge in a crucial military technology.
The landmark wind tunnel would reportedly be able to test future-generation aircraft that attain speeds of around 7.5 miles per second and reach the U.S.’s West Coast in about 14 minutes. Conducting the trials on the ground, rather than in the air, would significantly reduce risks associated with such extreme conditions and demonstrate how far China has come since establishing another hypersonic wind tunnel about five years ago.
“It will boost the engineering application of hypersonic technology, mostly in military sectors, by duplicating the environment of extreme hypersonic flights, so problems can be discovered and solved on the ground,” Zhao Wei, a deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said in a report published Wednesday by the South China Morning Post.
The U.S., which regularly competes with China and Russia to dominate in the latest military technology, currently possesses the world’s fastest wind tunnel. The LENS-X wind tunnel at the Calspan-University at Buffalo Research Center could reach up to Mach 30, or 30 times the speed of sound, but only sustains such an intense speed for two milliseconds, according to Science Focus.
The U.S. first tested its own hypersonic aircraft, the Falcon Hypersonic Vehicle Technology 2 (HTV-2), in 2010, but has never had the unmanned aircraft last more than nine minutes before losing contact. In response to China’s push for hypersonic aircraft and weapons, Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein appealed in May for a greater focus on hypersonic technology in the U.S. military.
“We must push the boundaries of technology in every area,” Goldfein said, according to an Air Force report. “Our adversaries aren’t standing still. They are looking for every advantage they can get.”
Last month, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) offered viewers a glimpse of the country’s current shockwave hypersonic wind tunnel, the JF-12, nicknamed Hyper Dragon, as well as a model of China’s planned hypersonic, potentially nuclear-capable glider, the DZ-ZF. China successfully tested the DZ-ZF, which could reportedly achieve up to Mach 10, for the first time in January 2014 and has tested it six more times since, most recently in April 2016, official Communist Party newspaper The People’s Daily reported.
While China’s new wind tunnel and hypersonic aircraft aren’t expected until at least 2020, the DZ-ZF’s speed would make it a difficult target for U.S. defenses, according to The Diplomat.