Like the United States and Russia, China has a keen interest in hypersonic weapons. In order to submit its prototypes to the aerodynamic conditions of hypersonic flight, researchers rely on wind tunnels.
Since 2012, China already operates the JF-12, which offers conditions similar to Mach 5-9 range speed. But to achieve greater speeds, the Chinese Academy of Sciences began the construction of an even more powerful facility in 2018.
Named the JF-22, the wind tunnel located in the Huairou District in northern Beijing would be able to simulate flights of up to 10 kilometers per second or 30 times the speed of sound, making it the fastest in the world. To recreate such flight conditions, the JF-22 would produce 15 gigawatts or 70% of the power generated by the Three Gorges Dam.
Unlike most other existing facilities which use mechanical compressors to generate high-speed airflow, the 265-meter-long wind tunnel relies on chemical explosions. It will offer an operating time of 130 milliseconds per test, over 4 times longer than the US equivalent LENS II.
Being in possession of the two facilities will put China “about 20 to 30 years ahead” of its competitors, Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Han Guilai claimed in an online lecture quoted by the South China Morning Post.
The Chinese military already fielded several hypersonic weapons, such as the DF-17 and DF-21 ballistic missiles. Russia with the Zircon and Kinzhal missiles has also been at the vanguard of hypersonic weapon development.
As for the United States, it is currently developing two different weapons: the HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) and the ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon). The ARRW AGM-183A missile, due to be carrying out its first flight test on April 5, 2021, failed to launch.