The Pentagon has announced that it has successfully tested a hypersonic glide body, saying that the launch will play an important role in future hypersonic technology development.
The US Navy released a clip of the projectile’s launch, which was carried out in cooperation with the Army.
The hypersonic glider was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii on Thursday night, yet confirmation came only on Friday. Its flight was tracked by the Missile Defense Agency, which will use the flight data to improve its own hypersonic defense systems.
The US Department of Defense said the missile traveled at ‘hypersonic speed,’ but failed to clarify what Mach it reached. The US recently resumed redeveloping hypersonic missiles after giving up following a series of failures. Washington has admitted that the US lags behind Moscow and Beijing, who are already fielding missiles
This improvement is seen as crucial, as Washington had said earlier that it has lagged behind other states, like Russia, when it comes to the development of such arms.
Moscow is already taking deliveries of the Kinzhal (meaning dagger) air-launched hypersonic missiles, while the first of its silo-based Avangard gliders have already been deployed.
The latter can reportedly reach a speed of Mach 27 and its testing last year prompted a retired US Chief of Staff to declare that existing American defense systems are “simply incapable” of countering such a weapon.
China, too, is developing two similar missiles, with one declared operational last year. By contrast, the US has yet to field a hypersonic missile. In Friday’s press release, the Pentagon said it aims to deploy hypersonic capabilities in the “early- to mid-2020s.”
The prototype tested on Thursday was developed by Dynetics Technical Solutions, and is referred to by the Pentagon as the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body, or C-HGB. The glide body is launched by a conventional rocket, which breaks away before the glider accelerates to more than five times the speed of sound. On its way to the target, the glider can maneuver to evade missile defenses.
Earlier this month, officials at the US Department of Defense set up a “hypersonic war room” to brainstorm the development of these futuristic weapons, and to assess the industrial base for manufacturing them.
To that end, the Pentagon has requested $3.2 billion for hypersonic development in its proposed 2021 budget.
Whether the splurge of investment will be enough to close the gap between Washington and Moscow, remains to be seen. In an interview earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that, while “we always had to catch up to our strategic weapons competitors…for the first time, we have created such offensive strike systems which the world has never seen. Now they are chasing after us, trying to catch up.”
Header: A common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, March 19, 2020 © Department of Defense