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US military hypersonic missile test fails after China flies one around the globe

This illustration shows a possible Lockheed Martin hypersonic strike weapon. (Lockheed Martin/Released)
October 22, 2021

The United States military’s latest test involving hypersonic missiles failed this week just days after a report first revealed China successfully flew a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile around the earth in August before hitting its target.

According to a Defense Department statement, the Pentagon conducted a “data collection experiment” on October 21 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, to “inform the department’s hypersonic technology development,” but the test was unsuccessful due to “a failure of the booster stack.”

“Program officials have initiated a review to determine the cause of the booster system failure to inform future tests. 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,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman said, as reported by The Drive. “Delivering hypersonic weapons remains a top priority, and the department remains confident that it is on track to field offensive hypersonic capabilities beginning in the early 2020s. This flight test is part of an ongoing series of flight tests as we continue to develop this technology.”

In August, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that traveled around the world before hitting its target, a development that reportedly shocked U.S. officials.

The missile circled the earth in low-orbit space and sped down to its target, though it landed some two-dozen miles away from its intended target. Those familiar with the test and briefed on intelligence told Financial Times that the test demonstrated major hypersonic weapons progress – more than the U.S. realized – and raised concerns that the U.S. has been underestimating China’s military capabilities.

“We have no idea how they did this,” one of five people familiar with China’s test told Financial Times.

Despite the DOD failure, the U.S. Navy and Army separately tested hypersonic weapon component prototypes on Wednesday that effectively “demonstrated advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems in a realistic operating environment,” a Pentagon statement read, according to Reuters.

Reuters also reported that the U.S. successfully tested a hypersonic weapon capable of traveling at speeds faster than five times the speed of sound in September. It was the United States’ first successful experiment of a hypersonic weapon since 2013.

Aside from the U.S. and China, Russia is also in the test phase of its hypersonic missile development.

In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged about Russia’s nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons during a large-scale parade for the Russian Navy in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

“Russia, in the shortest possible time, took its rightful place among the leading maritime powers, went through a colossal path of development from a modest Petrovsky boat to powerful ships of the ocean zone and nuclear-powered missile submarines, acquired effective long-range and short-range naval aviation, reliable coastal defense systems and the latest hypersonic high-precision weapons systems that still have no analogs in the world, which we are constantly and successfully improving,” Putin said.