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DOD reveals details on new hypersonic missile, travels 17 times faster than speed of sound

This illustration shows a possible Lockheed Martin hypersonic strike weapon. Weapons like these, capable of flying more than five times faster than sound, are a key part of the long-range precision fire modernization effort for the Army. (Lockheed Martin/Released)
July 25, 2020

Details have been revealed about the hypersonic missile that President Donald Trump has described as “super duper,” as the Defense Department works to catch up to Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons development.

A senior defense official said that the weapon flew 17 times faster than the speed of sound during a recent “successful” flight test performed over the Pacific in March, CNN reported. A “boost glide system” places a maneuverable glide vehicle atop a ballistic missile, allowing for enhanced maneuverability at hypersonic speed.

“We have a – I call it the ‘super-duper missile.’ And I heard the other night, 17 times faster than what they have right now,” Trump said in earlier this year.

Despite these advancements, the U.S. is still reportedly behind Moscow and Beijing in hypersonic weapons development; both have already fielded weapons systems, whereas a U.S. missile is unlikely to be fielded until 2023.

Hypersonic missiles are typically defined as traveling at least five times the speed of sound, more than 3,800 miles per hour, and are highly maneuverable and able to operate at varying altitudes.

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According to CNN, conventional missile defense systems are not as effective when used against hypersonic weapons. Unlike traditional ballistic missiles that have a more predictable trajectory, hypersonic missiles have tremendous speed and ability to maneuver.

“Trying to defend against a hypersonic vehicle, that uncertainty in trajectory, becomes very difficult to deal with and defenses become very difficult because you’ve coupled very high speed with uncertainty in flight trajectory,” a senior US defense official told CNN.

Last year, Russia reportedly placed its nuclear-capable hypersonic missile known as “the Avangard” on combat duty and has also tested an air-launched version of a hypersonic missile, which they claim could field as early as next year. In China, the CCP showcased its own hypersonic weapon during a recent military parade.

In an effort to catch up to Russia and China, the Pentagon has requested billions for hypersonic weapons development. A senior US defense official told CNN that “there is presidential level support and interest” in the development.

“The United States has been a world leader in hypersonic technology. But we’ve always shied away from making the decision to transition that technology to war fighting applications,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities Vic Mercado told CNN. “What helped us make the decision is that, you know, hey, the adversaries have made that decision to develop their hypersonic systems, and that really creates a potential asymmetry in war-fighting capability that we just can’t allow to stand if we want to make sure we maintain our military dominance.”