Washington – The United States, Britain and Australia announced on Tuesday that they will work together through the recently formed security alliance AUKUS to develop hypersonic missiles.
The move comes amid growing concerns by the US and its allies over China’s growing military clout in the Pacific. US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the plan after holding a check-in on the progress of AUKUS, the Indo-Pacific alliance formed by the three countries in September was called to life.
The leaders said in a joint statement that they are “committed today to launch new trilateral cooperation on hypersonic and counter-hypersonic and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as expand information sharing and deepen cooperation on defense innovation.”
The US, Russia and China have all tried to advance hypersonic missiles – a system so fast it cannot be intercepted by any current missile defense system.
In October, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that China had conducted a test of a hypersonic weapons system as part of its aggressive push for advances in space and military technology.
Milley described the Chinese test in an interview with Bloomberg Television as a “very significant event of a hypersonic weapon system test and it is very concerning”.
According to the top US commander in Europe, Russia has used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine “on multiple occasions”.
Last fall, as US intelligence officials grew concerned about the concentration of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the country’s weapons manufacturers to develop even more advanced hypersonic missiles to maintain the country’s lead in military technologies.
The Russian military has said its Avangard system is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound and making sharp maneuvers en route to a target to avoid enemy missile shields. It was fitted to the existing Soviet-built ICBMs in place of older-type warheads, and the first unit armed with the Avangard entered service in December 2019.
Carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, the Kinzhal has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, according to Russian officials.
The Pentagon’s budget proposal for 2023 already provides $4.7 billion for research and development of hypersonic weapons. It includes plans to deploy a hypersonic missile battery by next year, a sea-launched missile by 2025, and an air-launched cruise missile by 2027.
Biden, Johnson and Morrison have billed the creation of AUKUS as an opportunity to build greater defense capability sharing. As the first major action, the alliance announced that it would support Australia in equipping nuclear-powered submarines.
Morrison said the development of hypersonic missiles fits in with Australia’s strategic plan, released two years ago, to improve its military’s long-range attack capabilities.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure we get this capability as quickly as possible and in the best form that can work with our partners,” Morrison told reporters.
Australia’s defense minister Peter Dutton had previously announced plans to spend $2.6 billion to acquire long-range missiles for fighter jets and warships years ahead of schedule as threats from Russia and China mount.
A draft security pact between the Solomon Islands and China has raised concerns about a possible Chinese naval presence 1,200 miles off the northeast Australian coast. The Solomon Islands government has said it will not allow China to set up a military base there, and China has declined to set up a military base on the islands.