In a first, a breakthrough by Chinese scientists puts hypersonic weapons on aircraft carriers

The innovative technique for the speedy repair and service of hypersonic weapons had passed stringent field tests in challenging combat settings.
Deena Theresa
A 3D illustration of a hypersonic missile.
A 3D illustration of a hypersonic missile.


China's aircraft carriers will now be able to use hypersonic weapons courtesy of a breakthrough in logistics and technology that largely simplifies and accelerates the repair and maintenance of the weapons, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Designed to be launched from an aircraft (not a carrier), these weapons can be used as anti-satellite weapons or go after a wide range of high-value targets in the air, according to the People’s Liberation Army researchers led by Xiao Jun, a scientist with the China Airborne Missile Academy in Luoyang, Henan province.

The technology, unavailable in other countries, would serve "a large number of airborne missile equipment that is distributed widely in inland military bases, coastal airports, and aircraft carriers in the far sea," the team said.

In a paper published in the domestic peer-reviewed journal Aero Weaponry on October 1, the researchers write that China's air-launched hypersonic weapons, which remain unrevealed, are similar to Russia's Kinzhal missile, which can reach ten times the speed of sound over a range of 621 miles (1,000km).

This speed could increase the combat range of China’s carrier fleet to more than 2,500km with "ultra-fast air strikes that could penetrate most air defense systems".

China marks a first in hypersonic technology being used on an aircraft carrier

Hypersonic weapons are more difficult to maintain or repair than traditional missiles, especially at sea. In fact, to date, there are no reports of hypersonic technology being used on an aircraft carrier.

According to Xiao and his colleagues, their innovative technique for the speedy repair and service of hypersonic weapons had passed stringent field tests conducted by the military in an aircraft carrier environment, and other challenging combat settings reported SCMP.

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Typically, the surface temperature of a hypersonic weapon can increase to several thousand degrees when traveling in the atmosphere at high speed. Though advanced materials on some of the missile’s critical surface areas are absorbed against heat, allowing communication signals to go through, the hi-tech coating material was prey to damage during transport, storage, or mounting to an aircraft.

"When the damaged part is exposed to the ocean humidity with salt and mold, failures such as moisture absorption, expansion, deformation, blistering, debonding or peeling can occur to the heat-resistant coating," the researchers said.

The method reduced the average service time to a tenth of the general approach

Earlier, repairing these defects needed a clean ground-based room with advanced equipment and an experienced service crew.

Now, Xiao's team has developed a method that employs a unique sealing material. It requires only a "single worker to remove the damaged component, put in a replacement, fill the gaps with the sealing gel, and smooth the surface of the hypersonic missile with a scraper".

The new method, which was tested even in "poor conditions" on aircraft carriers, reduced the average service time to a tenth of the traditional approach. The research team said that the new technology would also help improve the lifespan of hypersonic weapons, which were required by the military to last at least a decade.

"The body heat seal needs to be restored after each disassembly, assembly, or replacement. The repair and sealing not only need to withstand high-temperature ablation and erosion, but also wind, frost, rain, snow, hail, tropical heat, salt spray, sand dust, and mold in the ocean for more than 10 years while remaining convenient for the field maintenance operations under rough conditions," Xiao’s team said.

"Such a product is currently unavailable in the market," they added.

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