France test launches its V-Max hypersonic glider for first time

France's homegrown hypersonic glide vehicle, V-Max, was tested on Monday, the French General Armaments Directorate reports.
Christopher McFadden
3d illustration of a hypersonic missile.
3d illustration of a hypersonic missile.


France successfully tested its homegrown Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) on the 26th of June 2023, the French General Armaments Directorate (DGA) reported.

Launched from a sounding rocket at 10 pm, the test flight is a vital step in the nation's quest for fast, maneuverable warheads. Called V-Max, the rocket and HGV were launched from the Biscarosse missile test site on the Bay of Biscay, southwestern France.

High-speed ground vehicles (HGVs) can reach extraordinary velocities of up to Mach 20 with the help of rocket boosters. Once the rockets detach, the HGVs use the remaining momentum to glide toward their target at hypersonic speeds. The HGV however, does not appear to be a planned replacement for the nation's ballistic nuclear missiles.

There are reports that France is upgrading its nuclear arsenal by replacing its medium-range air-to-ground nuclear missile (ASMPA) with a hypersonic missile called the ASN4G. This new missile is powered by a hypersonic ramjet engine, as opposed to a gliding weapon deployed from a rocket.

The HGV can reach Mach 5

V-MaX, or Véhicule Manoeuvrant Expérimental or experimental maneuvering vehicle to give it its full name, allegedly can exceed Mach 5, or 3,730 mph (6,000 kph). The DGA did not give details on the outcome of the test but said an analysis of data collected during the test was underway.

Currently, only a few countries either own or are in the process of developing this technology, namely China, Russia, and the United States.

“Equipped with many on-board technological innovations, this flight test was an unprecedented technical challenge that prepares the future of our national hypervelocity roadmap,” the DGA said. “France is one of the only countries in the world to have credible expertise in this field," they added,  

"Its flight test, on a very demanding long-range trajectory, represented an unprecedented technical challenge that will pave the way for the future of our national hypervelocity roadmap," the agency continued.

In 2019, the French government awarded the contract to create a glide vehicle to the aerospace company ArianeGroup. Hypersonic gliders are specifically created to transport either a nuclear or conventional warhead. Unlike ballistic missiles, which have a predetermined trajectory upon launch, hypersonic gliders can maneuver at high velocities, enabling them to evade air defenses and alter their course when confronted with anti-air missiles.

The missiles will level the playing field with China and Russia

During a hearing at the French Senate in October 2020, Admiral Pierre Vandier, Chief of Staff for the French Navy (Marine Nationale), provided information on the project.

“The hypersonic threat is a major consideration for us. Having missiles of this type is essential in the naval combat of today and tomorrow. The Chinese, and to a lesser extent the Russians, have developed a number of hypersonic weapons. China is trying to show that this type of weapon could be effective against aircraft carriers, but, despite significant efforts in strategic communication on their part, there is currently no convincing demonstration," he said.

“We are also working nationally on the subject of hyper-velocity missiles, the DGA having programmed a hypersonic test firing. From the point of view of anti-missile defense, we favor the axis of the modernization of air defense frigates which will be effective in 2027 and 2028," he added.

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