Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

China’s Mach 5 DF-17 Hypersonic Missile: A Threat to the U.S. Navy?

DF-17 Chinese Missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

DF-17: What You Need To Know – When it comes to conventional aircraft carrier killing missiles that could be launched from China, the U.S. Navy has protection. Carrier escorts in a battle group would have the AEGIS combat system to spot incoming bogeys and launch missile interceptors for self-defense. The carriers themselves are guarded by anti-missile interceptors too. But what about enemy MACH 5-plus hypersonic missiles? The Chinese have a mobile missile launcher that can fire a missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle that could evade American defenses. Called the DF-17, China has said it could hit a “moving target.”

Latest Taiwan Crisis Makes This a Dangerous Capability

The hypersonic-equipped DF-17 is the latest Chinese marvel, according to state-run media, and will be part of a growing arsenal to threaten its neighbors. Beijing’s recent military live-fire response to Taiwan included practice missile launches shot near the island along with a simulated blockade.  

Video Appears to Show a Practice Launch

The first video release of the DF-17 launching was shown on August 1. This was to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army. The road-mobile, medium-range DF-17 launcher was introduced in 2019 during a military parade and is now deployed with China’s rocket forces. It is believed to be able to fire a missile carrying the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle – China’s first operational hypersonic weapon. The DF-ZF can be conventional or nuclear-equipped. It is able to travel at speeds of MACH 5 to MACH 10 and be maneuverable in flight in a short amount of time to keep it from being intercepted. Its maximum range is 1,118 miles.

Aircraft Carriers Could Be in the Crosshairs

Beijing propaganda organs crowed recently about the ability to destroy “foreign” aircraft carriers with the hypersonic glide vehicle. State-run media also warned against naval powers like the United States interfering in a “reunification by force” operation alluding to a Taiwan attack executed by China.

Ultra-high Speed Maneuverability Is the Fear 

Regular ballistic anti-ship missiles from China would have a more predictable path, enabling the AEGIS to track and shoot them down unless fired in a multi-missile salvo, but the hypersonic model is different.

Tom Callender, who was previously an analyst for naval warfare at the Heritage Foundation, told the National Defense Industrial Association that hypersonics pose a problem to U.S. defenses. “The big difference between a traditional ballistic missile and these hypersonic boost glides is the trajectory and the ability to maneuver,” he said.

“You can’t predict from its initial boost necessarily where it’s going,” he added. “In theory, you … can maneuver off its initial ballistic track potentially several hundred miles, [and come in] a different way than defenders are expecting.”

Shoots Through Defense Layers

Hypersonics can also fly in between U.S. defenses that are configured for low-altitude cruise missiles and higher-altitude ballistic missiles.

DF-17 Hypersonic Missile

DF-17. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What Can Congress and the Pentagon Do?

Congress is concerned about hypersonic weapons that can threaten naval ships. In June, the House Armed Services Committee inserted stipulations in the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Navy to conduct a gap analysis and then create alternatives to defend against hypersonics fielded by China and Russia. The committee has asked the Pentagon to assess whether the Navy can defend against hypersonics with directed energy, microwave systems, cyber and “any other capabilities.”

Is It Too Little Too Late?

Studies take time and it’s not clear if these asymmetric concepts would be developed fast enough to meet the Chinese hypersonic threat. The navy may have to depend on its current missile defenses to counteract a potential launch if the worst happened against China in East Asia. Time is of the essence to develop systems that would make sure rogue states do not attack a U.S. carrier with hypersonics in a future red alert confrontation.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 10, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Aircraft Carriers can’t come within 1,000 miles of contested seas and survive. The aircraft on a carrier have a 500 mile combat range, eliminating the carrier as an offensive weapon. This is a strategic kill removing America’s Aircraft Carriers as a factor in a war.

    I suppose they could be used for long range drone support, but that’s just make work for an obsolete weapon system.

  2. Omega 13

    August 10, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Sorry, dude, but you’re not even close to being correct. Sounds like you’ve copied and pasted Danny’s article from yesterday.

  3. Steven

    August 10, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    Totally wrong…Everything works as a system, the carrier has support and more capability than you give it credit for. My point is that it’s not just the carrier alone to contend with, but a cordinated offense. Threats wsill be neutralized. As far as hypersonics, here is a little dose of reality…

  4. Old Desert Coyote

    August 11, 2022 at 1:51 am

    When it come to hypersonics a little knowledge of physics should be useful. First of all let us talk about heat. Did you know that the skin temperature of the SR-71 flying at 80,000 feet at 2300 mph reached a whopping 750 degrees F. Touching the windscreen at that speed produced a 2nd degree burn through the glove of the pressure suit.

    So with a hypersonic missile flying at Mac 5 (5500 fps or 3600 miles per hour, will have a skin temp of about 1500 F. Now with ships and forward recon aircraft with thermal sensors those missiles will stand out like a bright beacon on a dark moonless night.

    Also with the skin having a crystalline structure to with stand that temp and dynamic forces of the atmosphere if it were to impact anything larger than a bumble bee it is going to come apart in spectacular form.

    So with thermal sensors giving azimuth and elevation and the Doppler shift from given thermal signature giving the speed of the missile it will be a simple task to place boxes of fragments that the missile will have to fly through on the way to its target.

    So while all this hyper-sonic stuff may sound really sexy and dangerous they will be easy to destroy when and if they are deployed.

    It is much better to have a slow flying stealth vehicle flying 6 feet off the water/ground. The curvature of the earth yields a detection range of about 60 miles which will be covered by an inbound missile in about 10 minutes. The stealth will probably cut that to a detection time of about 1-2 minutes, which will be inside the window of effective response time.

    Just putting out the facts.

  5. GhostTomahawk

    August 11, 2022 at 2:32 am

    At Mach5+ this weapon will not be maneuverable. A sharp turn would turn would obliterate it. Intercepting is purely a math computation. As we have seen in every other evaluation of Chinese and Soviet Era weapon, they overstate their capabilities and we over estimate them based on what they tell us.

    Remember the Chinese are a secretive govt. So maybe they’re just telling us garbage to have us wet the bed and stay out of their theater if operations…🤔.

  6. 403Forbidden

    August 11, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Heh, heh, heh, Mr Eastwood.

    The high altar of hypersonic weaponry is FOBS, where the hypersonic payload is minutes within sight of any place on Earth.

  7. Klaus von Schnitzenpecker

    August 12, 2022 at 11:33 am

    The only thing the majority in congress is concerned about is ballots in November and finding Trump’s stash of nuclear codes.

  8. obspessimism

    August 12, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    We are sunk.

  9. Jason Mangen

    August 12, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    Speed of light compared to Mach speed. Please. Literally the speed of light wins every time. to destabilize the flight of a hypersonic missile happens almost instantly. The beam on target doesn’t need to have the energy to destroy the missile just enough to make the missiles speed unstable. The Chinese may be able to produce 2 or 3 a year if they push production.. Thanks to ChiCom ineptitude they actually test fired these missiles giving an abundant amount of information to us. My advice is to divest in investing hypersonic and reinvest in Lasers

  10. Chris Cha

    August 12, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    I have to think that “maneuverable” is a relative term with hypersonics. They can’t zig zag like a running back on a football field. They’ll make sweeping changes in direction – perhaps preprogrammed.

    Fragment-filled missiles would be a reasonable long range and medium range defense. Our Phalanx systems would be a reasonable last ditch defense. Long term: accelerate directed weapons operational deployment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *