Latest US military hypersonic missile test fails

By: News Desk      Published: 07:45 AM, 22 Oct, 2021
Latest US military hypersonic missile test fails
Representational image.

The US suffered a setback in the race with China and Russia to develop hypersonic weapons when its latest test failed, the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.

A booster stack, which is the rocket used to accelerate the projectile to hypersonic speeds, failed and the test of the projectile, the hypersonic glide body, could not proceed, the statement said.

Because the rocket failed the Pentagon was not able to test the hypersonic glide body, which is the key component needed to develop a hypersonic weapon, reported CNN.

Officials have started a review of the test, which took place Thursday at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska, to understand the cause of the booster failure.

"Experiments and tests -- both successful and unsuccessful -- are the backbone of developing highly complex, critical technologies at tremendous speed, as the department is doing with hypersonic technologies," said Lt. Cdr. Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement.

The Pentagon has made developing hypersonic weapons one of its top priorities, particularly as China and Russia are working to develop their own versions. The failure is another blow to the US effort following a failed test in April and comes days after it was reported that China had successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Traveling at Mach 5 or faster, hypersonic weapons are difficult to detect, posing a challenge to missile defence systems. Hypersonic missiles can travel at a far lower trajectory than high-arcing ballistic missiles, which can be easily detectable. Hypersonics can also maneuver and evade missile defence systems.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times reported that China had successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. They reported the glide vehicle was launched from an orbital bombardment system. Though China denied the report, saying on Monday that the test was instead a "routine spacecraft experiment.

Defence officials say they are particulary concerned about China developing hypersonic capabilities because they could enable Beijing to launch an attack over the South Pole, evading US missile defences, which are generally geared toward missiles coming over the North Pole.

Two weeks ago, Russia claimed to have successfully tested a submarine-launched hypersonic missile for the first time, dubbed the Tsirkon. Earlier this summer, Russia said it had fired the same missile from a warship.

The failed test of a hypersonic glide body occurred after the Navy and Army earlier this week conducted a series of successful hypersonic measurement tests highlighting the Pentagon's priority of rapidly researching and testing the weapon system. The three joint sounding tests were designed to collect data and carry out hypersonic experiments from DoD partners involved in developing the advanced weapons.

"These launches allow for frequent and regular flight testing opportunities to support rapid maturation of offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies," the Navy said in a statement about the trials.

Those tests, carried out at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, provide data for the development of the services' hypersonic weapons, including the Navy's Conventional Prompt Strike and the Army's Long Range Hypersonic Weapon.

The US is focusing on conventional hypersonic weapons that are based on ships, land and air platforms.

In April, the Air Force's hypersonic missile program suffered a setback when it failed to launch from a B-52. Instead, the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) remained on the aircraft.

US Navy conducts test of hypersonic missile tech

The United States successfully tested hypersonic missile technology, a new weapons system which is already being deployed by China and Russia, the US Navy said Thursday.

The test, conducted Wednesday at a NASA facility in Wallops, Virginia, is a "vital step in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile," the navy said in a statement.

"This test demonstrated advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems in a realistic operating environment," it said.

Hypersonic missiles, like traditional ballistic missiles, can fly more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).

But they are more maneuverable than their ballistic counterparts and can trace a low trajectory in the atmosphere, making them harder to defend against.

Ambassador Robert Wood, US permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, expressed concern earlier this week following reports that China had conducted a test in August of a hypersonic missile with nuclear capacity.

According to the Financial Times, China launched a hypersonic missile that completed a circuit of the planet before landing, missing its target.

"We are very concerned by what China has been doing on the hypersonic front," said Wood, who next week steps down from his post in Geneva after seven years.

China insisted that the test was a routine one for a spacecraft rather than a missile.

Wood said Russia also had hypersonic technology and while the United States had held back from developing a military capacity in this field, it now had no choice but to respond in kind.

"If you're a country that's the target of that, you're going to want to figure out a way to defend yourself from that," he said.

"And so we start looking at what other applications and defensive applications can you bring to hypersonic technology -- and so that continues to things to accelerate the arms race."

China unveiled a hypersonic medium-range missile, the DF-17, in 2019, which can travel around 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and can carry nuclear warheads.

The missile mentioned in the FT story is a different one, with a longer range. It can be launched into orbit before coming back into the atmosphere to hit its target.

Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine, and since late 2019 has had the hypersonic nuclear-capable Avangard missiles in service. The Avangard can travel at up to Mach 27, changing course and altitude.

The Pentagon hopes to deploy its first hypersonic weapons by 2025 and has said their development is one of its "highest priorities."

With inputs from AFP.