Chinese Scientists Make Shocking Weapons Discovery

( – Chinese scientists have made a new discovery that could protect against advanced hypersonic missiles. Researchers found that while the high-speed weapons are difficult to destroy, the right laser can damage the missile’s protective coating — and it could then destroy itself. If China can turn this into a practical weapon system, it could help its navy defend itself against the latest US missiles, but of course, the technology works both ways.

On March 21, the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper often seen as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), reported that researchers testing laser weapons against hypersonic missiles had made a valuable discovery. Hypersonic missiles fly faster than Mach 5, and at these extreme speeds, the friction of the air creates massive amounts of heat.

To protect against that, the missiles have a special protective coating. Previous tests have suggested lasers might not be effective against the missiles, but researcher Lin Jian says that’s because the tests weren’t realistic. His team put a missile in a wind tunnel and simulated Mach 6 airflow — and they found that the laser could make the protective coating peel off. This exposes the missile’s airframe to the full intensity of friction-generated heat and could destabilize it or even break it up.

Interestingly, this effect doesn’t need an extremely powerful laser. In fact, Lin’s team found that increasing power above a certain level caused less damage to the coating. Higher power will damage the metal structure under it, but lower power will strip off a larger area of coating and expose more of the missile to heat.

The US Navy is currently developing the Hypersonic Air Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Missile, a hypersonic weapon that will be the service’s future ship-killer. If China can reliably kill it with ship-mounted lasers, that could force a rethink. However, swords cut both ways.

In a war with the US, for example over Taiwan, China would rely on its own hypersonic weapons to keep US aircraft carriers away from its coast — and the US and its allies are developing laser weapons, too.

The US AN/SEQ-3 and British DragonFire are both powerful enough to destroy missile coatings the way Lin did in his experiments, and those systems aren’t in a laboratory; DragonFire is shooting down mortar bombs in live firing tests, and AN/SEQ-3 has already been deployed to the Persian Gulf on an operational US Navy ship.

If Western scientists can replicate Lin’s results, the menace of China’s carrier-killer missiles might go away.

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