Hypersonic missile showdown: US send signal to Putin with 3,800mph ‘air-breathing’ weapon


Russian navy tests Zircon hypersonic missile in the White Sea

The United States and its global rivals are stepping up their efforts to build hypersonic weapons – the next generation of arms which rob adversaries of reaction time and traditional defeat mechanisms. In July, Russia said it had successfully tested a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile, a weapon which President Vladimir Putin has touted as part of a new generation of missile systems without equal in the world.

The free flight test of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) occurred last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, said in a statement.

Hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, or about 6,200 kilometres (3,853 miles) per hour.

DARPA said: “The missile, built by Raytheon Technologies, was released from an aircraft seconds before its Northrop Grumman scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) engine kicked on.

US President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden’s US has successfully tested a hypersonic missile (Image: GETTY/DARPA)

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President (Image: GETTY)

“The DoD (Department of Defense) has identified hypersonic weapons and counter-hypersonic capabilities as the highest technical priorities for our nation’s security,” said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon’s Missiles & Defense business unit.

“The United States, and our allies, must have the ability to deter the use of these weapons and the capabilities to defeat them.”

In 2019, Raytheon teamed up with Northrop Grumman to develop and produce engines for hypersonic weapons.

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Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping, China’s President (Image: GETTY)

The DARPA statement added: “The HAWC vehicle operates best in oxygen-rich atmosphere, where speed and manoeuvrability make it difficult to detect in a timely way.

“It could strike targets much more quickly than subsonic missiles and has significant kinetic energy even without high explosives.”

Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, added: “The HAWC free flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our warfighters.

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Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon

An artist’s impression of the hypersonic air-breathing weapon (Image: DARPA)

China hypersonic glide vehicle

China showcases one of its hypersonic glide vehicles (Image: GETTY)

“This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next generation capability to the US military.”

He added: “HAWC’s successful free flight test is the culmination of years of successful government and industry partnership, where a single, purpose-driven team accomplished an extremely challenging goal through intense collaboration.

“This historic flight would not have been possible without the dedication of industry, US Air Force, and Navy flight test personnel who persevered through the pandemic to make the magic happen.”

United States

United States military factfile (Image: Express)

Yesterday it was revealed that China’s scientists are building a hypersonic weapon which would be capable of triggering an intense electromagnetic pulse to knock out communication and power supply lines.

The missile, with a range of 2,000 miles, will travel at six times the speed of sound, and is designed to create a chemical explosion over a city which would cripple it within seconds.

Researchers at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing suggest it would stay within the earth’s atmosphere, hence remaining undetectable to space-based early warning systems.


Russia’s military power in numbers (Image: Express)

Engineering scientist Sun Zheng and his co-researchers, writing in the Tactical Missile Technology journal, explained: “It can release 95 percent of the energy in just 10 seconds, suitable for instantaneous discharge to cause electromagnetic pulse damage.

“This would cause the effective burnout of key electronic devices in the target information network within a range of two kilometres.

“The active stealth electromagnetic pulse weapon based on energy regeneration conforms to the current development trend of rapid warfare, strong confrontation, and full-dimensional information damage.”

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