Information about the Chinese missile DF-17 first appeared from the US military in 2014. Then it was designated as WU-14. One of the most secret Chinese weapons immediately attracted a lot of attention, since it was supposed to develop hypersonic speed.
The DF-17 is responsible for the development of the 10th Scientific Research Institute, or the Institute for the Study of Aircraft of Near Space, under the Chinese Aerospace Scientific and Technical Corporation. It is believed that the DF-17 is based on an existing short-range missile DF-16B.
DF-17 (Dong Feng-17) is a Chinese solid-fuel medium-range missile equipped with a hypersonic aircraft DF-ZF . Its length is 11 m, weight is 15 tons, speed is from 5 to 10 Machs (6192–12 348 km / h) in the slip phase. According to American intelligence, the range of the DF-17 is between 1800 and 2500 km. Technically, a missile can carry both a conventional and a nuclear warhead. Although, during the 2019 parade, the Chinese commentator noted that the rocket will perform the usual non-strategic tasks.
The DF-17 missile is mobile and moves due to its installation on a special wheeled chassis with a 10 × 10 configuration. This vehicle can travel in difficult terrain, although it is commonly used on paved roads. According to some estimates, China is also capable of creating an anti-ship version on the basis of DF-17, which will allow China to restrain US marine activity near China.
The first flight tests of the Chinese hypersonic unit were carried out in 2014. Between January 2014 and November 2017, China conducted at least nine flight tests of the hypersonic unit of the DF-ZF rocket. The tests took place at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province.
The first joint flight tests of the rocket and the hypersonic block took place in November 2017. During tests at the Jiuquan Space Center in Gansu Province in the Gobi Desert, the rocket successfully flew 1,400 km, and the hypersonic block flew at an altitude of 60 kilometers after the ballistic stage of the launch vehicle and showed an impressive degree of accuracy – the missile’s test launches apparently hit the target in within a few meters. In addition, during the tests, the hypersonic unit performed “extreme maneuvers” and “evasions”. Thus, China has tested the first hypersonic glider in the world.
China creates DF-17 to counter missile defense of the United States and its allies. Hypersonic gliders, by virtue of their flight at low altitudes, pose problems for existing radar sensor technologies that provide ballistic missile defense. Low-altitude flights, instead of re-entering the atmosphere from a much higher point along a ballistic trajectory, allow existing missile defense systems to detect a hypersonic glider in much less time before the glider can reach its goal.
However, in the final stages of flight, a hypersonic glider is significantly slower than most warheads flying along a ballistic trajectory. This can make them potentially vulnerable to interception by modern missile defense systems.
To solve this problem, a hypersonic glider has the ability to maneuver during flight. If these gliders are capable of quickly correcting the course, they can indeed overcome missile defense by dodging interceptors. But performing quick maneuvers without compromising the accuracy needed for combat effectiveness is a significant technical challenge. To do this, you need a special sensor network that can select and fix targets for the DF-17. While there is no objective evidence that China or any other state has decided it.
The South China Morning Post, which does not consider the DF-17 a universal weapon, agrees with this. She estimates that the DF-17 could hit the US Navy at the Japanese naval base in Yokosuka and destroy missile defense facilities, but it is not yet capable of hitting high-speed moving warships.
With its range, the DF-17 could threaten US forces and their allies in the western Pacific. According to the IISS report:
“ Depending on its maximum operating speed, the DF-17, launched from the east coast of China, can reach anywhere in South Korea and most of Japan within 12 minutes, including launch time, separation of the hypersonic planning unit and its braking in the atmosphere during the glide path phase . At these speeds, he can reach the US base in Guam in 15 minutes . ”
Hong Kong military expert Song Zhongping said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the DF-17 could overcome US missile defense systems in the region, including the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems, and reach not only South Korea and Japan, but Taiwan. That is, the DF-17 missile could completely change Beijing’s strategy regarding Taiwan and permanently close this issue.
The defenselessness of the US allies against these weapons was confirmed by General John Heiten , commander of the US strategic command. Speaking to the Senate Armed Forces Committee in March 2018, he said that the United States has no means of protection against launching this type of weapon.
In addition, the possession of such weapons by China poses a great threat to the nuclear forces of India, as it makes the nuclear retaliatory strike even more realistic until the very fact of striking with a hypersonic weapon, that is, when a flying hypersonic warhead is detected.
The current status of the DF-17 remains unclear. However, the appearance of sixteen units of this missile at the Chinese military parade in 2019 sparked rumors that the missile could already have entered the PLA. The U.S. Intelligence Agency estimates that the DF-17 will not be deployed before 2020. In the same year, it is planned to put into service the Russian Avangard hypersonic missile. That is, the DF-17 will become the second hypersonic gliding device, put into operation this year.
In June this year, it became known that the Institute of Mechanics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed a powerful hypersonic jet engine, also known as a ramjet engine with supersonic combustion. This is critical to achieving hypersonic speed. Using a hypersonic engine can potentially expand the range of the DF-17 at least five times, which will allow it to become an intercontinental-range missile, which means threatening the safety of all its opponents, wherever they are located.