China’s development of hypersonic weapons: Technology-push or market-pull?

(From the National Interest)

By Karen Montague, Erika Solem

When analyzing a country’s investment in expensive next-generation defense technologies, it is important to understand the driving forces behind its development. A useful lens to analyze new innovations is the technology-push and market-pull framework. Innovation literature traditionally defines a technology-push as an invention that is “pushed” through research and development (R&D) without consideration for the intended use, while a market-pull is defined as R&D arising from an identified market need (Managing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Technology-Based Firms, 1994). When applying this model to the defense sector, it is also important to consider the principal-agent model. In this case, the defense economy is the agent, which acts in service of the military, the principal (China’s Emergence as a Defense Technological Power, 2013). The recent and rapid development of China’s hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) technology presents an interesting case to apply these concepts. Because China’s HGV program is highly secretive, the motivations of its program can support both sides of the technology-push and market-pull dichotomy.

Recent Developments of Hypersonic Glide Vehicles:

DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle

Chinese DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle

The United States, China, and Russia have all invested copious amounts of time and money into developing different forms of hypersonic weapons, with one of the more recent advancements being the HGV. Hypersonic glide vehicles are a new generation weapon that have utilized ballistic missiles or strategic bombers as their launchers. After being separated from the launcher, a HGV is intended to sustain flight at Mach 5 (approx. 3,836 mph) or above. Recent HGV tests have used a ballistic missile or strategic bomber. Although all ballistic missiles travel at hypersonic speeds, HGVs are unique because of their low altitude trajectory and potential to sustain an unpredictable flight path. The vehicles are reported to have both a conventional and nuclear application, and they allow for a faster attack with fewer support requirements than a modern strike force (Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, January 2016). Currently, the U.S., Russia, and China are the only three countries that have knowingly tested HGVs, each with different engines, launch platforms, ranges, and speeds. Read more



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