China Tests New DF-17 with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle

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In November, China conducted two tests the new DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), the first missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) designed for operational deployment by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF). The first test took place from the Jiuquan Space Launcher Center in Inner Mongolia and traveled a range of approximately 1,400 km. Calculated flight time of the HGV was estimated nearly 11 minutes at a depressed altitude of approximately 60 km following completion of the ballistic and reentry phases, and successfully landed in Xinjiang Province, near Qiemo, reportedly “within meters” of the intended target. This was the first Chinese ballistic missile test to occur after the Chinese Communist Party’s First Plenum of the 19th Party Congress in October. The HGV payload was designed specifically for the DF-17, and was also “the first HGV test in the world using a system intended to be fielded operationally.” Besides these two tests, China has conducted seven known tests of experimental HGVs between 2014-2016. HGVs present challenges to existing missile defense radar sensor technology by virtue of their low-altitude flight profile.

Parts of the U.S. intelligence community assess that the DF-17 MRBM possesses a range between 1,800-2,000 km, and is expected to reach initial operational capability by 2020. Intelligence reports suggest the DF-17 will be capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional payloads, as well as being configured to deliver a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV. The reports assess that the DF-17 is derived from the PLARF’s DF-16 SRBM, which is currently deployed in Guangdong Province.