Will the Pentagon test a hypersonic missile from Florida?

Little concrete information is known, but the Pentagon may be conducting a crucial final test of one of its hypersonic missile systems this week.
Christopher McFadden
Image of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.

Craig Boliver/iStock 

In an interesting investigation by ARS Technica, it appears that the Pentagon may have, or is about to, conduct a secret hypersonic missile test near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Little is known about the event, but airspace and maritime navigation warnings were released around the time to warn pilots and mariners near Cape Canaveral. This has led many analysts to speculate that this may have been an important test of such systems before them being officially fielded by United States ground forces.

Hypersonic missile test?

The parameters of the published launch hazard zones indicate the scheduled launch window and trajectory of the missile. Experts who monitor launch activity state that the flight path aligns closely with the expected trajectory for a hypersonic missile test originally planned to launch from Cape Canaveral earlier this year.

The flight path did not match any planned missions by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, or NASA, leaving the US military as the only potential organization responsible for the operation. However, US military officials have, as yet, refused to confirm or deny this.

"We have nothing to announce at this time," a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of Defense told Ars Technica. "Test dates and event details are not announced in advance," they added.

Based on air and sea navigation warnings, the missile test might launch from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. EDT (14:00-17:30 UTC). However, the specific launch window has not yet been announced.

What's very interesting is that this is not the first time this has happened. Last March (2023), similar navigation warnings appeared on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Federal Aviation Administration websites. While no test went ahead, military officials later clarified that the warnings were linked to a hypersonic missile test. The test allegedly had to be canceled because of a technical issue with the system.

Several weeks after the postponed test flight, the Army released a press statement detailing a complete practice of expeditionary hypersonic launch capabilities at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The statement did not mention the delayed test flight and included an image of the Army's "Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon" (LRHW) road-mobile missile battery deployed at the station.

The LRHW is a land-based system managed by the Army's "Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office." It is part of the military's initiative to create and deploy hypersonic missiles. The Navy will also use a similar system on its vessels to enable sea-launched hypersonic weapons.

The plot thickens

Cape Canaveral hasn't been used for land-based missile testing for several decades. In the past, the Air Force would conduct test flights of "Minuteman" missiles from the Florida spaceport during the Cold War. The launch range in Florida is still utilized for testing "Trident" missiles launched from submarines offshore. However, it is known that Cape Canaveral is positioning itself as a hub for the testing of hypersonic missiles.

So, are the warnings regarding a hypersonic missile test legitimate? We probably will never know, but certain publications and military experts appear confident that this is the case.

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