Could this new material help China break the hypersonic weapon heat barrier?

Researchers in central China have developed a non-carbon-based heat-resistant material with potential for use in hypersonic vehicles, according to Chinese media reports.

The team, led by Professor Fan Jinglian from Central South University in Hunan province, developed a ceramic-metal material that can endure temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,430 Fahrenheit), according to Hunan Television.

Fan, a top researcher in high-temperature-resistant materials, said the composite could be used in various devices, from engines to space rockets and nuclear reactors.

The new material’s heat resistance also means that it might be suitable for use in hypersonic aircraft, which can heat up to as high as 3,000 degrees Celsius through atmospheric friction.

Some Chinese military tech surpasses US, Pentagon admits, citing hypersonic weapons

The breakthrough by Fan’s group is a departure from the field’s previous focus on carbon-based materials.

“We should make use of our knowledge and turn it into wealth for our society and our country ... so that we can take a leading position [in technology] in the world,” Global Times quoted Fan as saying.

According to the report, Fan’s team, with the support of local government, set up an industrial unit to manufacture the material, supplying it to aerospace and defence enterprises since March.

While the new material is a dual-use technology, military experts said it was too early to say if it would spur a great leap forward in China’s pursuit of hypersonic technology.

Hong Kong-based military analyst Song Zhongping said it would be simpler if the material was only used in rockets, which were generally “disposable”.

“[The technology] would be much more difficult if the material was for use in hypersonic aircraft because it needs to be reusable,” Song said.

“A new military technology should satisfy three criteria: be innovative, of a high standard and of quality materials.

“It can be created if it has all three elements and integrates them successfully and seamlessly.”

In August, China successfully tested the Starry Sky-2, a missile-capable hypersonic aircraft, in northwest China, according to the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics.

China successfully tests Starry Sky-2 hypersonic aircraft

A Beijing-based missile expert said that although China had made great strides in hypersonic technology, it was mainly used in “strategic weapons”.

“Among the hypersonic weapons, the land-based hypersonic missile is the most powerful one,” the expert said. “But the missiles are huge and even China’s biggest military transport aircraft, the Y-20, cannot carry them.”

The expert added that because of the high cost of hypersonic technology, China would only produce a small stockpile of such missiles for deployment in key economic centres such as Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong provinces.

According to Song, China was not likely to use hypersonic technology in antisatellite weapons because laser-directed weapons, high-powered microwave beams and other more sophisticated weapons would be better alternatives.

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