The Defense Department said today it successfully tested a hypersonic “glide body” — a key and emerging weapon in the “great power” competition with Russia and China — in a flight experiment conducted from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai Thursday night.
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Army jointly executed the launch of the vehicle, which flew at very high speed to a designated impact point.
The Pentagon called the test a “major milestone” toward the fielding of hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early- to mid-2020s.
”This test builds on the success we had with Flight Experiment 1 in October 2017, in which our (hypersonic glide body) achieved sustained hypersonic glide at our target distances,” Vice Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, said in a release.
In that test, also off Kauai, the U.S. military used a prototype missile with a modified hypersonic weapon boost-glide vehicle. Officials said the missile one day could be fired from Virginia-class submarines.
In Thursday’s test “additional stresses” were placed on the system “and it was able to handle them all,” Wolfe said.
Hypersonic weapons, capable of flying at speeds of at least Mach 5, or 3,800 mph, and Mach 10, or 7,600 mph, are highly maneuverable and operate at varying altitudes.
“This provides the warfighter with an ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away, in a matter of minutes, to defeat a wide range of high-value targets,” the Pentagon said. “Delivering hypersonic weapons is one of the department’s highest technical research and engineering priorities.”
The hypersonic glide body — when fully fielded — will have a conventional versus nuclear warhead, officials said. The Navy is the lead designer and the Army has the lead for production. Both services will use the weapons with launchers on land and at sea.
“Russia, China and the United States are in a race to develop and deploy hypersonic glide weapons,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said in January.
The group noted that the Defense Department “has claimed these weapons will provide revolutionary new capabilities and will present daunting new threats against which there is currently no effective defense.”
But the bulletin said many of the claims made for hypersonic weapons are overstated “and much of what they can do could be accomplished more easily and cheaply using better-established technology, typically via the modification of ballistic missile warheads.”