Pentagon officials have revealed some details of the “super duper” hypersonic missile, which President Donald Trump claims cruises at a speed of Mach 17.
“Trump has taken special interest in the missile. What he was referring to, really, was the recent flight test that we've performed in March where we flew 17 times the speed of sound,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying by CNN on July 16.
Trump’s oft-cited ‘17 times’ faster figure derives from a test of a ‘hypersonic glide body’ over the Pacific in March. Although Pentagon officials said the test was “successful,” they had not divulged any more details back then.
According to the report, the U.S. still lags years behind Russia and China in hypersonic weapons technology, with the first weapon expected to be fielded in 2023.
“Russia has five times, and China is working on five or six times. We have one 17 times. And it’s just gotten the go-ahead,” Trump said during a May 16 White House ceremony unveiling the flag of the U.S. Space Force.
Aviation Week wrote in June, citing its sources, that the tests were a failure. “The missile is believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive-carry flight test,” the news outlet had reported quoting sources familiar with the evaluation of tests carried out by the 419Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California. The date of the test has not been specified.
Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound, and are considered highly maneuverable and capable of operating at varying altitudes. The weapons are seen as particularly hard to defend against using conventional missile defense systems, which are designed to counter and intercept traditional ballistic missile threats, the trajectory of which are much more predictable than their hypersonic counterparts.
"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 U.S. defense official told CNN.
“There's presidential level support and interest in what we're doing. Trump gets briefed on the details of hypersonic weapons program,” he added.