But ballistic missiles fly high in space in an arc to hit their target, while a hypersonic flies on a low trajectory in the atmosphere, potentially hitting a target faster.
Importantly, a hypersonic missile is maneuverable (like the much slower, often subsonic cruise missile), which makes it more difficult to track and combat.
While countries like the United States have developed systems designed to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles, the ability to track and shoot down a hypersonic missile remains a question.
Taylor Fravel, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the FT: “Hypersonic sliding vehicles. . . fly at lower trajectories and can maneuver in flight, making them difficult to track and destroy.
Professor Fravel said it would be “unsettling” if China fully developed and deployed such a weapon in the future.
China has aggressively developed the technology, seeing it as crucial in defending itself against US gains in hypersonic and other technologies, according to a recent report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The reported test comes as US-China tensions have escalated and Beijing has stepped up military activities near Taiwan, the self-governing democracy aligned with the United States that Beijing sees as a province awaiting reunification.