US, UK and Australia to Cooperate on Hypersonic Weapons

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The United States, Britain and Australia have announced on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, that they would begin collaborating on hypersonic missile strike and defence capacity, as rivals Russia and China have advanced rapidly in the cutting-edge technology.

The trio (United States, Britain and Australia) said they would work on hypersonics in an expansion of their recent AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US) Defence Alliance, which is to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines to counter China’s growing military clout.

In a joint statement by US President, Joe Biden, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the three nations pledged “new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics and electronic warfare capabilities”.

Concern by Analyst

Marcus Hellyer, Defence Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, intimated that it is hard to judge “what is actually new” in the statement put out by AUKUS. Hellyer pointed out that Australia and the United States are already working together on hypersonics, although the new commitment may open up new areas of cooperation with Britain.

Australia announced in December 2020, that it would work with the United States on developing hypersonic weapons in a so-called SCIFIRE Programme. Canberra, Australia’s capital, committed in its 2020 Defence Strategy Programme to invest between Aus$6.2 – 9.3 billion (US$4.7 – 7.0 billion) in high-speed, long-range strike and missile defence, including hypersonics.

Hypersonics and related technologies are now “very much a part of what the AUKUS partnership is striving to deliver”, Australia’s Morrison disclosed to reporters on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. But there were few details about what the leaders’ hypersonic plan entailed.

However, the three leaders said on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, that they are “pleased” with the progress of the Australian submarine programme.

The Power of Hypersonic Missiles

According to experts, hypersonic missiles have the ability to travel more than five times the speed of sound and manoeuvre in mid-flight, making them much harder to track and intercept, as compared to traditional projectiles. They may carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

Russia Gone Ahead

On the same day as the latest AUKUS announcement, the US Military said it recently completed a free-flight test of an aircraft-launched hypersonic missile that maintained a speed of more than Mach 5 (a speed number representing the delimiting speed separating supersonic speed from hypersonic speed) But rival powers are making rapid advances.

According to the US Congressional Research Service, Russia is the most advanced Nation in hypersonics while China is also aggressively developing the technology. Last month (March), Moscow claimed it has twice fired its newest Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to hit targets in Ukraine. Russia has also claimed a series of successful tests including firing a Zircon hypersonic missile from a submerged submarine.

Again, media reports confirmed by the Pentagon’s top General that China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the Earth last year (2021). However, China said it was “a routine spacecraft test”. North Korea claimed to have carried out two hypersonic missile tests in January 2022.

About the AUKUS Deal

The United States, Britain and Australia launched AUKUS last September 2021, vowing to provide Australia with the technology to build a nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarine fleet, giving it greater sneakiness and reach in the Pacific Region. As a result, Canberra scrapped a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France, which infuriated Paris.

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