The Chinese spy balloon, recently shot down by the U.S. military, has grabbed headlines in recent weeks. Other countries, including India, Japan, and Taiwan, are looking into the possibility that similar Chinese balloons have violated their airspace.
Even more worrisome is that China could also use such balloons to deploy hypersonic weapons.
In 2018, Chinese state television CCTV aired footage of a high-altitude balloon, not unlike the one that traversed the United States and Canada last week, dropping what appeared to be hypersonic weapons.
The video depicted a weapons test in which a high-altitude balloon carried three wedge-shaped payloads, perhaps hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), to a predetermined height before releasing them.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), based in Hong Kong, China is working on developing precision warheads for hypersonic weapons, which would provide the country’s armed forces with an “unstoppable nuclear-capable weapon.” The HGVs are launched into the air using balloons.
The wedge-shaped payloads appeared to resemble designs revealed in 2017 by CCTV closely, believed to be associated with China’s in-development HGV DF-ZF, which went online in October 2019.
The DF-ZF HGV can undertake evasive maneuvers and reach speeds of up to Mach 10 in order to avoid enemy fire.
It can be transported by China’s medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), the Dong Feng-17 (DF-17), which has a range of 5,500 kilometers, a speed range of Mach 5 to 10, and the ability to deliver either conventional or nuclear bombs.
The reports also suggest that the balloon-launched HGVs in the images may have contributed to China’s secretly tested hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) development in July 2021, sparking widespread concern and panic among U.S. military commanders.
The glider vehicle reportedly flew over 24,800 miles (39,911 km) in orbit before re-entering the atmosphere and reaching the terrestrial target, as the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported.
According to the DIA report, the flight test lasted more than 100 minutes, making it “the longest distance traveled and longest flight time of any Chinese ground attack weapon system to date.”
Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, said the HGV, which was secretly tested, appeared intended for a “first-use” nuclear strike against the United States.
“It looks like a first-use weapon,” Hyten said.
China could use balloons for an EMP nuclear attack.
The president of the Center for American Defense Studies, Paul Crespo, has suggested that the balloon’s recent passage over U.S. and Canadian airspace may have been a dry run for an attack using a weapon mounted on a balloon. The use of hypersonic missiles, however, is unlikely to be China’s top priority.
“Although China has tested balloon-launched hypersonic missiles in the past, that is not a likely use for these blimps,” Crespo told The Epoch Times. “The biggest threat is sending one or more of these high-altitude balloons over the U.S. with a small EMP (electromagnetic pulse) nuclear device.”
“Detonated at extremely high altitude, they could knock out power and communications across the U.S., wreaking widespread havoc for a year or more without firing a shot on the ground.”
As EurAsian Times has previously discussed in depth, U.S. experts are concerned about the vulnerability of the country’s power grid infrastructure to high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) nuclear attacks, apparently due to a lack of enough attention from the Biden administration.
An American expert on EMP warfare, the late Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, released a report in July 2020, during his tenure as Executive Director of the EMP Task Force on Homeland and Homeland Security, in which he cites various Chinese military writings that they talk about HEMP attacks against the U.S. as a means to prevail in a possible war with the U.S.
According to U.S. military experts, a successful EMP attack on the East Coast could kill 90% of the population within a year of the attack, and it would take 18 months to restore the power grid and social order.
Some 99 nuclear reactors would probably melt down without electricity to cool them, and some 4.1 million people would have to move from the areas near the nuclear power plants.
The U.S. is also developing ways to use balloons as weapons.
China isn’t the only country developing new ways to weaponize hot-air balloons.
The United States Army is also rumored to be developing a system that would use a network of high-altitude balloons hovering in the stratosphere to launch swarms of aircraft from altitudes between 23,000 and 66,000 feet. Unmanned aircraft systems, including armed drones, flying over enemy territory.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is investing millions of dollars in high-altitude balloons capable of flying at altitudes of between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, which it intends to use for surveillance and, eventually, perhaps even for tracking hypersonic weapons of adversaries.
The Department of Defense is interested in incorporating high-altitude balloons, and commercial satellites into the kill chain, which could be done in several ways, for example, by using them as communication and data link nodes, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) assets. , etc.