Speeding towards WW3: US and Australia launch HIFiRE 'hypersonic' missile in new arms race

The successful launch from a remote rocket range near Woomera, in South Australia, helped staunch fears that China and Russia were racing ahead in a new hypersonic arms race, and concerns over increasingly hostile missile tests by North Korea.

The incredible speed would theoretically take a hypersonic glider from London to Australia in a little over one hour.

Although, the US has said the missiles will only carry conventional warheads, there are already fears other nations could use them to increase nuclear capabilities.

The hypersonic glider is capable of travelling at Mach8 – eight times faster than the speed of sound, from between 3,836mph (6,200kmh)to almost 8,000mph (13,000kmh). 

The test was part of a project called the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation Program (HIFiRE) involving the US and Australian militaries, Queensland University, Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group and private companies, including Boeing and BAE Systems.

The date of the test earlier this month has not been released, however, a video of the launch was posted online a few days ago by the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture & Information Technology of the University of Queensland, which is a partner in HIFiRE.

Just weeks ago, in May, members of US Congress raised concerns that the US was trailing behind Russia and China in the development of hypersonic weapons capabilities.

US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, said at a Congress hearing steps needed to be taken to counter any potential threat to the US from the advancement of the technology.

He said: “I’m concerned about Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons development, and I expressed those concerns in the right places. 

“What we can do is to develop our own hypersonic weapons and improve our defences against theirs.” 

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said the launch: “takes us one step closer to the realisation of hypersonic flight.”

She said it raised the military potential of Australia, as by having mastered the technology of hypersonic flight, the nation would be in a better place to respond to “future threats.”

There had been earlier launches under the £41m project, including those in Hawaii and Norway in 2012.

Mrs Payne said the latest launch was the end of the tests as part of the HiFiRE series.

However, she added that Australia aims to maintain its position “at the leading edge of hypersonic research” and looks forward to arranging further hypersonic flight experiments with the US.

There are faster intercontinental ballistic missiles around, but the hypersonic glider has better maneuverability, and is less easily detected on approach.

BAE Systems Australia said in a statement that “the successful flight trial was the most complex of all HIFiRE flights conducted to date”.

The US has said it will only use the missiles for conventional weapons.

Some experts fear once the technology is perfected, other nations will use them for nuclear warheads, and then the US will be forced to follow suit.

But that hasn’t stopped a number of experts voicing concerns that other nations will use the technology to launch a nuclear strike.  

Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist and visiting research fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, told the Huffington Post: “Washington had always intended for the new ‘hypersonic boost-glide’ weapons to remain purely conventional

“But Russia and China seem to be pursuing nuclear variants.

“If the hypersonic arms race heads in a nuclear direction, Washington may be pressured to follow.”

So far in 2017 North Korea has fired 17 missiles, despite an outcry from the United States.

There are fears it could now even have the capability to fire a missile that could reach the US, potentially sparking World War 3.

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