In recent years, one of the most scrutinised items among known Chinese systems is the Dong Feng 17 (DF-17) hypersonic boost-glide missile.

The DF-17 is the weapon that the U.S. intelligence community estimated in 2017 to become the first of its kind to see operational deployment, reports the Economic Times.

China's new "hypersonic" ballistic missiles will not only challenge the defences of the US but also be able to more accurately hit military targets in Japan and India, a media report said today.

The report in the South China Morning Post comes after Tokyo-based The Diplomat magazine reported that China's rocket forces conducted two tests late last year of a new "hypersonic glide vehicle" or HGV, known as the DF-17.

Citing US intelligence sources, The Diplomat reported that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force carried out the first test on November 1 and the second one two weeks later.

Both tests were successful and the DF-17 could be operational by around 2020-21, the US intelligence sources were quoted as saying.

HGVs are unmanned, rocket-launched, manoeuvrable aircraft that glide and "skip" through the earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds.

Compared to conventional ballistic systems, HGV warheads can travel at much higher speeds, lower altitudes and less- trackable trajectories. The approach leaves defence systems less time to intercept the warhead before it drops its payload.

The DF-17 test missiles were launched from the Jiuquan launch centre in Inner Mongolia and flew about 1,400 km during the trial, The Diplomat reported. Chinese state media first reported on the country's HGV technology in October 2017, with footage of the system in a hypersonic wind tunnel in various arrays.

HGV technology has become part of the nuclear strategy between the world's four big nuclear powers: China, the US, India and Russia. Compared to conventional ballistic missiles, HGVs are more complex and difficult to intercept.

The US, Japan and India should be worried about China's developments in HGV technology because it can reach targets quicker and more accurately, with military bases in Japan and even nuclear reactors in India being targeted.

Chinese military specialists say that the DF-17 was one of several iterations of glider systems developed by the PLA, including the DF-ZF which has been through at least seven tests. Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA's Second Artillery Corps, the rocket wing's predecessor, said the DF-17 was the weaponised model of the DF-ZF prototype.

Song, a military commentator for Hong Kong's Phoenix Television told the Post that the HGV system could be used with various kinds of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range of at least 5,500 km. He also said multiple HGV warheads could be used with the DF-41, which has a range of at least 12,000 km and can hit anywhere in the US in less than an hour.

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said HGVs could also be used to target and destroy a US anti-missile system known as THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, which are currently deployed in South Korea to war doff---- attacks from North Korea.

In respect to the threat perceptions for America, "China's HGVs ... could destroy the THAAD radar system if there is war between the two countries," Wong said. "Once the THAAD radars fail to function in the first stage, it could reduce the window to raise the alarm about the PLA's [ICBMs] ... leaving the US without enough time to intercept," he said.

Perceptible Threat To India

It is however unknown if India's Advanced Air Defence (AAD) multi-layered ballistic missile defence system would be able to circumvent a HGV to protect India from such ballistic missile attacks. Conversely, defending against an attack by a cruise missile on the other hand is similar to tackling low-flying manned aircraft and hence most methods of aircraft defence can be used for a cruise missile defence system.

Fang Xiaozhi, a researcher at the BRI Institute of Strategy and International Security at Fudan University, had downgraded India's missile defence system and its deterrence capabilities. Fang had relegated the success of completion of the BMD program by calling it “most conservative plan in all its anti-missile tests “. He further added that this testing approach of ‘hitting a fixed target’ doesn’t comply with a real combat situation, nor can it truly test the anti-missile system’s stability and reliability.”

This is a fallacy, on 23 November 2012 the AAD missile test for the first time was tested in a hit-to-kill mode. During the test, the target missile (modified Dhanush missile) was simulating the final phase of the trajectory of ballistic missiles with a range of 1,500 km, such as Pakistan’s Ghauri or China's DF-11 missile. At the end of over five minutes the AAD interceptor missile cut into the path of the incoming “Enemy” missile, knocked it out and also pulverised it with its new manoeuvrable warhead. Before this test, DRDO had mostly tested, near-miss or zero-miss acquisition of targets. With this system, an AAD missile blows itself up some nine meters from its targets. However, the hit-to-kill capability will enable the interceptor to directly destroy hostile targets. DRDO has indigenously developed key Radio Frequency seeker technologies and sophisticated digital processing software.

India has also successfully demonstrated to target one among simultaneously incoming multiple targets (decoys/dummies) was selected in real time, the weapon system radars tracked the target and the missile locked on to it and intercepted the target with a high degree of accuracy.

Even though China has a military that is rapidly procuring advanced conventional and nuclear weapons, India isn’t far behind considering it is already equipped with nuclear weapons and advanced ICBM missiles.

There’s a distinct possibility that China is undermining India’s defence capabilities, as it would only be a matter of time before India may upgrade the AAD system to enhance the kill probabilities against hypersonic projectiles. India has made noteworthy progress in the independent complicated R&D and deployment of ballistic missile systems in recent years, it has overcome heavy dependence on other nations with regard to key technologies, and fragmentary systems.

However, given China's strict information control, not much is known about the credibility of DF-17 HGV, for all we know, could be one among the many combative postures that China projects to thwart any military adventurism by the United States and its allies.


The DF-17 is a solid-fuelled missile, measuring around 11 m in length, and weighing around 15,000 kg. The DF-17’s booster appears to be the same as that used for China’s DF-16 ballistic missile. Its accompanying DF-ZF HGV reportedly reaches speeds of Mach 5-10 (1.72-3.43 km/s) in its glide phase. U.S. intelligence assessments suggest that the DF-17 possesses a range between 1,800 and 2,500 km. Although Chinese commentators have emphasised the DF-17’s conventional mission, the missile may alternatively equip nuclear warheads, reported by missile-threat website.

The DF-17 has demonstrated a high degree of accuracy in testing, with one U.S. government official saying a test warhead “within meters” of its intended, stationary target. U.S. defence officials have also said the DF-ZF HGV performed “extreme manoeuvres” and “evasive actions” in previous test flights.

Some reports suggest China could develop the DF-17 into a second-generation anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), further enabling China’s strategy to deter U.S. regional intervention. In January 2019, PLA officials claimed to have an anti-ship DF-17 variant under development.

DF-17 Flight Tests (Claimed)

Jan 9, 2014 First test launch
Aug 7, 2014 2014 Failed test, missile broke up soon after launch
Dec 2, 2014 Successful Test
Jun 7, 2015 Apparent success, vehicle took “extreme manoeuvres"
Aug 19, 2015 Apparent success, took “evasive actions”
Nov 23, 2015 Successful, with the HGV reaching a speed “beyond Mach 5”
Apr 22, 2016 Successful Test
Nov 1, 2017 Flew approx. 1,400 km over 11 minutes
Nov 15, 2017 Employed DF-17 to boost HGV to apogee

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