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With eye on China and Russia, US conducts hypersonic missile test

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NEW DELHI: The United States has advanced its weapons technology with a hypersonic missile test, signaling progress amidst an arms race with China, Russia, and North Korea. “While we won’t discuss specific test objectives, this test acquired valuable, unique data and was intended to further a range of hypersonic programmes,” the US Air Force said in a statement.
Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), capable of speeds exceeding Mach 5, and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) represent the forefront of US hypersonic capabilities.Lockheed Martin announced the test’s completion with “full confidence” and readiness for rapid delivery to the Air Force, a South China Morning Post report said.
Experts highlight the strategic importance of hypersonic weapons, as they are difficult to detect and intercept, promising a “critical capability advantage” in modern warfare. Both the US and China are heavily investing in the development and defense against such fast-moving armaments.
China’s advancements, including the deployment of the DF-17 hypersonic missile system, have stirred significant attention. The Pentagon’s 2022 report outlines the DF-17’s role in targeting military assets in the Pacific. Russia, too, has showcased its hypersonic capabilities, notably deploying the Kinzhal missile in Ukraine.
The Pentagon faces congressional pressure to accelerate its hypersonic programs, with a specific focus on HACM due to its broader integration potential across various aircraft. The future of the ARRW program remains under evaluation, with ongoing tests providing valuable insights for other hypersonic initiatives.
What are hypersonic missiles and how do they work?
Hypersonic missiles are a class of weapons capable of traveling at speeds of Mach 5 or faster, which is five times the speed of sound or about 3,836 miles per hour (6,174 kilometers per hour) and above. Their high speeds, combined with their ability to maneuver and fly at lower altitudes compared to traditional ballistic missiles, make them particularly challenging for current missile defense systems to intercept.
Working mechanism of hypersonic missiles
Speed and trajectory: The defining feature of hypersonic missiles is their extraordinary speed, reaching hypersonic velocities that significantly reduce the time defenders have to detect, track, and intercept them. Unlike ballistic missiles that follow a predictable parabolic trajectory, hypersonic missiles can maneuver en route to their target, making their path unpredictable and complicating interception efforts.
Types of hypersonic weapons
Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs): Launched from a rocket before gliding to a target, HGVs exit the atmosphere and then re-enter, gliding at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere. Their ability to change direction mid-flight makes them difficult to track and intercept.
Hypersonic cruise missiles: Powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines known as scramjets after their initial launch, these missiles maintain hypersonic speeds throughout their flight within the atmosphere. They fly closer to the ground, potentially using the terrain to mask their approach.
Scramjet technology: Scramjet (Supersonic Combustion Ramjet) engines are a key technology enabling hypersonic cruise missiles. These engines compress incoming air at supersonic speeds before combustion, allowing the missile to maintain hypersonic speed with greater efficiency compared to traditional rocket propulsion.
Maneuverability and precision: The combination of high speed, maneuverability, and low flight altitude allows hypersonic missiles to evade radar detection and anti-missile defenses, while also providing the precision required for striking high-value targets with minimal warning.
Strategic implications: Due to their speed and agility, hypersonic missiles are seen as a game-changing technology in military strategy, capable of penetrating advanced missile defense systems. They are particularly suited for time-sensitive targets where the window for reaction is minimal.

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