The Motley Fool Previous Page

Is China's Mach 10 Missile a Game Changer?

Rich Smith
January 19, 2014

Artist's conception of the HSSW, coming to a secure, undisclosed location near you by 2030. Source: Lockheed Martin

Good news, bad news -- which would you like first?

Actually, let's start with the good news. In December, we learned that U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is developing a new superfast, hypersonic bomber dubbed SR-72 (or more poetically "Son of Blackbird"). Traveling at heights of 80,000 feet, and speeds of Mach 6 and up, this futuristic warplane will launch missiles nearly as blistering-fast -- Mach 5 or better.

As Lockheed Martin tells it, the combination of a hypersonic SR-72, and its on-board High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) will be a true "game-changer" in modern warfare. Once the weapons systems go live in 2030, they'll be capable of striking an enemy at "nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour." What's more, Lockheed isn't even the only company working on such "scramjet" powered missiles. Boeing (NYSE: BA) has one in development, too, the so-called X-51 WaveRider, and like Lockheed's rocket, it travels at Mach 5.

Boeing's version of Lockheed's HSSW -- the WaveRider. Source: Wikimedia Commons

But now here's the bad news:

China's got a hypersonic missile, too. And it's twice as fast as ours.

On Thursday, British newspaper The Guardian reported that China has just become the second country on the globe to conduct test flights of hypersonic missiles. The Chinese version, dubbed "WU-14," fired off on Jan. 9, and according to press reports achieved a speed of Mach 10, putting even the best U.S. hypersonics to shame.

So far, no many people seem eager to talk about China's test. Not the Chine