The United States military headquarters, the Pentagon, is seen in this aerial view on Sept. 28, 2008.
The United States military headquarters, the Pentagon, is seen in this aerial view on Sept. 28, 2008.Reuters

China has confirmed that the country has for the first time tested a hypersonic missile vehicle designed to travel several times the speed of sound, even as Chinese military advancement has raised regional tensions in recent times.

China said that the test, conducted on 9 January, was scientific in nature and was not targetted at any country. The development, however, can be perceived as a response to the country's growing tensions with Japan and the latter's recent announcement to beef up military capabilities.

"It is normal for China to carry out planned scientific research and experiments within its borders. The tests are not aimed at any country or any specific target," China's National Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement confirms a report by the online Washington Free Beacon newspaper that a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) was intercepted flying at 10 times the speed of sound over China last week.

China now becomes the second country after the United States to conduct tests with hypersonic vehicles, a technology that could allow armies to strike distant targets located anywhere in the world.

The Pentagon said it was aware of the test and that greater transparency is expected from China on matters related to defense, in order to avoid 'miscalculation'.

"We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test," said Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool, a Pentagon spokesman.

"However, we don't comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems. We encourage greater (Chinese) transparency regarding their defense investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation," he said.

The hypersonic delivery vehicles are able to carry nuclear warheads at a speed above 'Mach 10' or 12,359 kilometres per hour, the Free Beacon said in its preliminary report. 

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