Days after Russia announced the development of its own hypersonic missiles, the United States revealed that it, too, has been working on hypersonic capabilities, launching three rockets with hypersonic flight speeds above Mach 6 over California on Tuesday.
The tests happened at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Air Force Research Laboratory in Colorado and were conducted under the banner of the Hypersonic Technology Test Bed. The first two test launches, on Tuesday and Thursday, lasted around two minutes; the last one lasted about 80 seconds.
A fourth hypersonic rocket is scheduled to be launched on September 15.
“Developing hypersonic aircraft and missile technology, once deemed too dangerous for flight, is an important demonstration of the U.S.’ new capabilities to defend our country and the allies that we defend,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
Developing hypersonic capabilities, which can travel at speeds over 5 times the speed of sound, could prove beneficial for both the military and the commercial aerospace industry. Ahypersonic flight is faster than the speed of sound but slower than the launch speed of a Mach 5 jetliner, making hypersonic technology even more dangerous to the enemy. Hypersonic technology would also offer advantages in warfare, as it can travel to non-conventional areas and by “fleeting away” from critical infrastructure, such as oil refineries, relatively quickly.
Each launch carried three experimental engines that were armed with rocket propellant, which would be used to propel the hypersonic rocket into space and enable a trip to Mach 6. Each rocket’s flight lasted just over half an hour, achieving a top speed of around 5 times the speed of sound.
“There’s an obvious question as to why our taxpayers would invest in hypersonic propulsion when the Russians are already working on hypersonic rockets,” said Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
Given that the United States is already working on hypersonic technology, Reed expressed skepticism about whether the government was the proper place to develop such capabilities.
“When the nation is already working on it, why invest in laboratories that will take four years to design a missile or launch a rocket?” Reed said. “Clearly they’re concerned about Russia’s hypersonic weapons that they will be talking about this year.
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon Program and the Hypersonic Technology Test Bed are not the only ongoing hypersonic tests, however. In March, the Air Force’s SwiftAssist missile system successfully tested a rocket motor that was designed to propel an estimated 5,400 miles, which would be 200 miles faster than the fastest of Russian missiles.