The United States had successfully conducted a “free flight” hypersonic missile test in mid-March. However, they kept it under wraps to not further escalate tensions with Russia as per the Pentagon, especially when President Biden was scheduled for a series of meetings in Europe to address the Russo-Ukrainian conflict last March 23. The Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted the missile test in the same week of Biden’s Europe trip.
It was revealed that the Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne version of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) was successfully released from a B-52 Stratofortress bomber off the West Coast as per an unnamed defense official.
According to a DARPA press release published on Tuesday, the missile was boosted till its Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine ignited, propelling it to a maintained cruise speed faster than Mach 5 for “an extended period.” The HAWC reportedly reached altitudes of 65,000 feet, with a range of more than 300 nautical miles. This achievement was due to the hypersonic missile’s air-breathing ability, which captures air from the atmosphere to achieve sustained propulsion.
“The speed and maneuverability of such hypersonic cruise missiles allow both evasions of defenses and quick strikes. Their kinetic energy can effectively destroy targets even without high explosives,” the release said.
This is the 2nd recorded successful flight for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept. According to DARPA, these systems could provide the US with significantly increased offensive striking abilities, especially at a time when the US’ military rivals have also begun to develop their line of hypersonic missiles.
“This Lockheed Martin HAWC flight test successfully demonstrated a second design that will allow our warfighters to competitively select the right capabilities to dominate the battlefield,” HAWC program manager Andrew “Tippy,” Knoedler said.
“We are still analyzing flight test data but are confident that we will provide the US Air Force and Navy with excellent options to diversify the technology available for their future missions,” he added.
The test was kept secret to not further strain relations with Russia. It was a similar decision to the postponement of the US Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile testing last March 2 upon the order of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Another missile test of the Minuteman III was also canceled last April 1 to lower nuclear tensions with Russia.
“To demonstrate that we have no intention of engaging in any actions that could be misunderstood or misconstrued, the Secretary of Defense has directed our Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch, scheduled for this week, to be postponed,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.
The US’ tests on its hypersonic weapons came after the Russian Defense Ministry announced that they had used their hypersonic Kinzhal missile in destroying a fuel depot in the Mykolaiv area in Ukraine. It was reportedly done for Russia to posture and show the world that it had “superior” military capabilities and that the Kinzhal represented Russia’s next-generation weapons. However, it was later reported by analysts that the usage of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile was not anything significant and that the missiles were said to be Iskander-M missiles that were modified for fighter jet usage. These analyses were accompanied by reports that Russia had been running out of missiles to launch in Ukraine. It had fired more than 1,000 missiles into the country, bombing military targets and, allegedly, residential areas in the process.
▫️Destruction of a weapons depot of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by high-precision missile weapons strike. We can see the exact hit of an underground hangar with weapons and ammunition. pic.twitter.com/sKTF46Tdb0
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) March 19, 2022
It can also be remembered that Russia’s ally, China, had successfully tested their hypersonic missiles in 2021, which allegedly circled the globe before accelerating toward the target. These missiles were known to have nuclear capabilities and that it flew at low orbit, speeding up towards their target. However, this test was said to fail as the missile missed the target by more than two dozen miles of its target. This would seem like it is not a huge number, but in a time of precision munitions, missing a target by 24 miles is cause for concern as it was nowhere near its target. While it was initially a shock to the US that the Chinese had been progressing that far into their hypersonic research, they had been well aware of the Chinese’s hypersonic weapons program in the past.
The US wasn’t caught lacking either, as they have also been developing hypersonic weapons as part of its Prompt Global Strike Program, a project launched in the early 2000s. Furthermore, the Biden administration has requested $7.2 billion in the 2023 Defense Budget for long-distance arms, which includes hypersonic missiles.
Congressman Matt Gaetz Clashes With Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Regarding Hypersonic Weapons
This issue of the US allegedly falling behind Russia and China in terms of hypersonic weapons was brought about by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) during a heated exchange between him and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The exchange took place at the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill last Tuesday.
“You guys told us that Russia couldn’t lose. You told us that the Taliban couldn’t immediately win. And so I guess I’m wondering what in the $773 billion that you’re requesting today is going to help you make assessments that are accurate in the face of so many blown calls,” Gaetz said.
Secretary Austin: "This is the most capable, the most capable combat critical force in the world…the fact that you are embarrassed by your country–"
Rep. Matt Gaetz: "No. I am embarrassed by your leadership!" pic.twitter.com/U3H1S99GTv
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 5, 2022
Austin hit back at Gaetz, saying that the budget proposal speaks for itself. However, the congressman hounded him about the United States falling behind on new weapons development and its inability to prevent Russia’s invasion.
“While everyone else in the world seems to be developing capabilities and being more strategic, we got time to embrace critical race theory at West Point, to embrace socialism at the National Defense University, to do mandatory pronoun training,” said Gaetz.
Gaetz was referring to a recent virtual forum hosted by the National Defense University titled “Responding to China: The Case For Global Justice and Democratic Socialism,” which was presented by French economist Thomas Piketty. Austin claimed that he was unaware of the event and said he does not condone embracing socialism.
“The fact that you are embarrassed by your country, by your military, I am sorry for that,” Austin responded.
“Oh no, no, I’m embarrassed by your leadership. I am not embarrassed for my country,” the GOP representative rebutted.
“I wish we were not losing to China… That is so disgraceful that you would sit here and conflate your failures with the failures of the uniformed service members,” he added.