The latest test of a US hypersonic weapon failed after an “anomaly” occurred during the first test of the full system, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The test, carried out at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, was supposed to launch the Common Hypersonic Glide Body atop a two-stage missile booster. The booster is designed to launch the system and accelerate it to hypersonic speeds in excess of Mach 5, at which point the glide body detaches and uses its speed to reach the target. It was the first time the entire system was tested, called an All Up Round test.
The anomaly prevented the Defense Department from completing the entire test, but the Pentagon said it was not a complete failure.
“While the Department was unable to collect data on the entirety of the planned flight profile, the information gathered from this event will provide vital insights,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cdr. Tim Gorman in a statement. Gorman did not provide any additional details on the nature of the anomaly or at what stage of the test it occurred.
Program officials will review the test to find out what failed and to inform future tests, Gorman said.
“Delivering hypersonic weapons remains a top priority and the Department remains confident that it is on track to field offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities on target dates beginning in the early 2020s,” Gorman said.
The Pentagon has placed an increased emphasis on hypersonic weapons development after lawmakers became concerned that the US was falling behind the Chinese and Russian programs. Last year, China successfully tested a hypersonic weapon that orbited the globe before hitting its target. More recently, Russia became the first nation ever to use hypersonic weapons in war when it launched its Iskander and Kinzhal missiles at Ukraine.
The failure, first reported by Bloomberg, is another setback for the US in the race to develop and field hypersonic weapons, though the US has carried out successful tests of other hypersonic programs.
The previous test of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, a joint venture between the Navy and Army, also ended prematurely when the booster rocket failed. Without the booster rocket, the Pentagon could not proceed with a test of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body.
That test, which was carried out in October at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska, did not use the two-stage missile booster that is designed to be a part of the system. Instead, it used a different booster, but the failure meant the test did not provide data about the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, the key component needed to develop a hypersonic weapon
In May, the Air Force successfully carried out a test of its Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s Program executive officer for weapons, said it was a “major accomplishment” for the service.
The ARRW program had suffered a series of its own setbacks and delays during development, including three flight test failures before the most recent success.
In March, the Pentagon successfully tested the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), but kept the test quiet for two weeks to avoid escalating tension with Russia as President Joe Biden was about to travel to Europe.