China’s drive for military supremacy: Beijing’s armoury of weapons


China is spending huge sums to create hypersonic missiles that will go so fast (up to twenty times the speed of sound) that military chiefs believe they will be invulnerable to any form of defence.

Indeed, some analysts fear that human capability to respond to such lethal weapons will be inadequate and that the only way to protect against them would be to rely on artificial intelligence and computer systems.

Travelling several miles a second as they deliver surprise attacks within minutes of being launched, they have been described as a ‘game-changer’ for warfare.

A Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles group formation marches to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in Beijing, October 1, 2019

A DF-17 missile is presented during a military parade at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019

Although America, too, has such Star Wars-style weapons in development, General John E. Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, told a Senate committee three years ago: ‘We don’t have any defence that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.’

Such missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, would deliver precision attacks on people, vehicles and buildings.

To test such weapons, the Beijing government said three years ago it was building a wind tunnel that simulated conditions up to 25 times the speed of sound. And a contractor has said it has carried out a six-minute test flight for a hypersonic missile.

The complexities of developing hypersonics – using sophisticated sensors, guidance systems and innovative propulsion methods – have been compared to building the atomic bomb.


This is a revolutionary material with enormous defence and manufacturing potential. One atom thick and the thinnest and lightest material known to man, it conducts heat, absorbs light, stretches and is 200 times stronger than steel.

It was invented by researchers in 2004 at Manchester University – with China’s President Xi Jinping having made an official visit to their lab.

Among its military applications are as coatings on ballistic missiles, wiring in hypersonic vehicles exposed to high temperatures, camouflage of vehicles and body armour for troops.

Chinese troops take part in marching drills ahead of an October 1 military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at a camp on the outskirts of Beijing, China, on September 25, 2019

Chinese reports suggest that the Z-10 attack helicopter – a rival to Boeing’s Apache – has been equipped with graphene armour developed at the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials. The institute has ties to three universities in Britain, where it collaborates on two centres specialising in research into the use of graphene in the aerospace industry.

Chinese media have reported plans to use graphene coatings on military installations on artificial islands built in the South China Sea, an area where Beijing has controversially deployed Jin-class ballistic missile submarines armed with nuclear missiles.


One of the most sinister recent trends in China has been the creation of a surveillance state that seeks to control 1.4 billion citizens through a constant watch over their movements, thoughts and words.

People are tracked via a massive network of street cameras, facial recognition technologies, biometric data, official records, artificial intelligence and monitoring of online activities as mundane as things like shopping and takeaway food ordering habits.

The most extreme example is in the Western province of Xinjiang, where Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are under 24/7 surveillance.

Much of the network was developed by the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, which supports work at four Chinese universities with ties to seven British universities.


As part of President Xi’s bid for China’s global supremacy, he has employed a so-called ‘military-civil fusion’ strategy that involves universities playing a central role in maximising the country’s military power.

China’s constitution also stipulates that all new technologies, even if developed by the private sector, must, by law, be shared with the People’s Liberation Army.

A key research institution is the National University of Defense Technology, in Hunan, which is controlled by the military and specialises in hypersonics, drones, supercomputers, radar and navigation systems.

It has links with eight British universities, including a formal collaboration with one world-renowned seat of learning.

The Beijing government is developing swarms of ‘suicide’ drones to hover in the sky as they locate their target. Pictured, stock photo

Eight other UK universities have ties with the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which spends 60 per cent of its research budget on defence activities.

Another important centre is the Harbin Institute of Technology. It has a joint research lab with the nation’s leading ballistic missile manufacturer and has links with three British universities.


The Beijing government is developing swarms of ‘suicide’ drones to hover in the sky as they locate their target – while communicating with each other and co-ordinating their movements without any human input.

This marks the next era of robotic warfare, with autonomous weapons replacing current drones that have to be pre-programmed or are remote-controlled. 

The United States and Israel are also working on such technology, while Britain, too, tested a swarm of 20 drones last month with sorties from RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria.

The advanced technology uses computer algorithms – often modelled on biological studies of insects and fish – to create self-navigating drone squadrons.

In total, China is estimated to have 350 nuclear warheads, including 204 on operational long-range missiles fired from land-based launchers. Pictured, hypersonic missile launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii on March 19, 2020


In total, China is estimated to have 350 nuclear warheads, including 204 on operational long-range missiles fired from land-based launchers, 48 on submarines and 20 ‘gravity bombs’ to be dropped from aircraft. 

A recent Pentagon report warned that, in its bid to catch up with Russia and the US, Beijing plans to double its nuclear arsenal over the next decade as part of President Xi’s drive towards global dominance.

Many of these weapons are being developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a massive state-owned conglomerate that has links with at least five UK universities.

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Ian Birrell