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US, UK and Australia plan to develop hypersonic weapons

President Joe Biden speaks on national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, in the East Room of the White House on Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The U.K., U.S. and Australia said they are working on developing hypersonic weapons — military technology already deployed by Russia in Ukraine — as part of their new trilateral security pact called AUKUS.

Their plan is to “accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities,” according to a joint statement. The alliance wants to counter the threat of such weapons, which can evade traditional missile defense systems and travel five times faster than the speed of sound, and develop its own as a deterrent, a U.K. official said on condition of anonymity.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed Western governments to reassess their military capabilities. The AUKUS leaders — Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, U.S. President Joe Biden and British premier Boris Johnson — said in a joint statement Tuesday that they are also deepening defense cooperation on issues such as electronic warfare, where adversaries seek to use the electromagnetic spectrum to gain an advantage on the battlefield.

“In light of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, we reiterated our unwavering commitment to an international system that respects human rights, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion,” they said in the statement. The AUKUS alliance is also working collectively on areas like cyber warfare and artificial intelligence.

Australia is also one of the countries on the front line of rising competition between the U.S. and China, with relations between Canberra and Beijing rapidly deteriorating in recent years. The Australian government has denounced allegations of human rights abuses in China and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which resulted in Australian exports facing obstacles entering Chinese ports.

The AUKUS pact announced in September last year was designed to help Australia develop at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, a project that could take more than a decade, and also coordinate military capabilities to promote security in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden, Morrison and Johnson said they are “pleased” with the progress on delivering the submarines and that they remain committed to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.

The Australian government, which is expected to hold an election in May, has been playing up its national security credentials ahead of the vote. On Tuesday, Australia announced A$3.5 billion ($2.7 billion) to accelerate the acquisition of improved weaponry for the Australian Defense Force, including missiles and maritime mines.

“We want to make sure that our country has the capability to deter any act of aggression against our country, but it’s a very real and serious situation. We need to be realistic about what is going to happen over the next few years or the next decade,” said Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Tuesday.


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