The hypersonic air-breathing weapon (HAWC) concept was launched from a B-52 bomber off the west coast, the official said, in the first successful test of the Lockheed Martin version of the system. A booster engine accelerated the missile to high speed, at which point the air-breathing scramjet engine ignited and propelled the missile to hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 and above.
The official provided few details about the missile test, noting only that the missile flew above 65,000 feet and over 300 miles. But even at the lower end of the hypersonic range – around 3,800 miles per hour – a 300 mile flight takes less than 5 minutes.
US officials have downplayed Russia’s use of their Kinzhal hypersonic missile. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he didn’t see it as “some kind of game-changer” after the Russians announced the launch of the missile. Days later, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it was “difficult to know exactly what the rationale was” for the launch, as it was aimed at a fixed storage facility.
“It’s a pretty big hammer to take out a target like that,” Kirby said at the time.
The Kinzhal missile is simply an air-launched version of the Russian short-range Iskander ballistic missile. In other words, it is a variation of established technology as opposed to a revolution in hypersonic weaponry. The US test was of a more sophisticated and tougher air-breathing scramjet engine. The HAWC missile also lacks a warhead, instead relying on its kinetic energy to destroy the target.
At the time of the US test, Biden was preparing for a visit to NATO allies in Europe, including a stopover in Poland where he met with Ukraine’s foreign minister and defense minister.
The United States has been careful not to take any actions or make any statements that might unnecessarily escalate tensions between Washington and Moscow. On Friday, the United States canceled a test of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to avoid any misinterpretation from Russia. Austin had already postponed the test in early March to avoid any action that could be misinterpreted by Russia at such a sensitive time.
In general, the United States has also remained somewhat discreet about the weapons and equipment it sends to Ukraine. It was only in the latest $300 million security assistance package that the Department of Defense listed specific systems and weapons.
The United States also opposed the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine via the United States, fearing that the Kremlin could interpret such a decision as the entry of the United States and NATO into the conflict. in Ukraine.
US officials remained silent on this latest hypersonic test for two weeks for similar reasons, the defense official said, careful not to provoke the Kremlin or President Vladimir Putin, especially as Russian forces have stepped up their bombardment of Ukraine.
The US test is the second successful test of an HAWC missile, and it is the first of the Lockheed Martin version of the weapon. Last September, the Air Force tested the Raytheon HAWC, powered by a Northrop Grumman scramjet engine.
The test achieved all primary objectives, according to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) press release, including integrating and releasing the missile, safely separating from the launch plane, firing abseiling and cruising. Additionally, officials provided few details about the flight, not mentioning how fast the missile flew or how far it traveled. The statement only said the missile traveled at speeds above Mach 5.
The United States has renewed its focus on hypersonic weapons following successful Russian and Chinese tests in recent months, heightening concern in Washington that the United States is falling behind on a military technology considered critical to the future.
In the FY23 defense budget, the Biden administration requested $7.2 billion for long-range fires, including hypersonic missiles. In a report last year, the Government Accountability Office identified 70 efforts related to the development of hypersonic weapons, which are expected to cost nearly $15 billion between 2015 and 2024.
A month after the first successful HAWC test, the United States suffered a setback when a test of a different hypersonic system failed. The failure came just as reports said China had successfully tested a hypersonic gliding vehicle over the summer and shortly after Russia claimed to have successfully tested its sub-launched hypersonic missile. -sailor, nicknamed the Tsirkon.
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