The US executes a secret hypersonic missile test. Can it catch up?

The technology is shifting paradigms of war.
Loukia Papadopoulos

On Tuesday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its U.S. Air Force partner announced that they had completed a free flight test of the Lockheed Martin version of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). CNN then reported that the test was actually conducted two weeks ago but kept secret to avoid worsening tensions with Russia.

DARPA revealed that the vehicle managed to maintain cruise faster than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) for an extended period of time, reached altitudes greater than 65,000 feet, and flew for more than 300 nautical miles.

A second successful flight test

The event marked the second successful flight in DARPA’s HAWC program since last September. "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,” said Andrew "Tippy" Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.

“These achievements increase the level of technical maturity for transitioning HAWC to a service program of record.”

But CNN reported the test was kept secret for two weeks in order to avoid making tensions with Russia worse. In actuality, the test was conducted days after Russia announced it used its own hypersonic missile during its invasion of Ukraine.

The Kinzhal aviation missile system

The weapon used was the newest Kinzhal hypersonic missile and its aim was to destroy a weapons storage site in the country’s west. “The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse containing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said at the time.

Days after the attack, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it was "hard to know what exactly the justification" was for the launch, because it targeted an easy-to-reach stationary target. "That's a pretty significant sledgehammer to take out a target like that," Kirby said at the time.

Will this new announcement by DARPA further complicate U.S.-Russian relations or will it simply go unnoticed? What other weapons could the U.S. be keeping secret? 

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