Russia says hypersonic missile test successful

Image copyright AFP Image caption Emergency services stand in front of Zircon missiles following the test

Russia says its Zircon hypersonic weapon has successfully hit its target in a test flight at the weekend.

Russia’s state news agency TASS said the missile destroyed a missile target in its second test run.

Fears have increased that the pace of hypersonic flights has been outpacing their ability to hit targets, and the US has outlined plans to defend itself from such missile threats.

The United States is “committed to all measures” to protect its forces from such threats, the Pentagon said.

The Zircon missile can travel at five times the speed of sound and has the “highest possible strike accuracy” of any anti-missile system in use, TASS reported.

According to the Russian defence ministry, the Zircon weapon was tested “safely and successfully”.

Defense analyst Simon Powell said it was important to note that the rocket had been attached to a vehicle with a re-entry vehicle.

“Now they are moving to the phase of launch and moving away from that vehicle,” he told Al Jazeera.

The Zircon weapon is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 6 (Mach 6 is the speed of sound; Mach 1 represents the speed of sound).

“The question is, what would they do if a US missile is travelling at Mach 10 or 11,” Mr Powell said.

“It would be difficult to do that with a conventional warhead because of the electromagnetic effects on the environment.

“The Russians are going to be running into the same problem if they make a weapon that has huge destructive power, because in terms of the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) it is a much larger destructive force, given the inflation of the weapon itself.”

‘Working on the programme’

The US has been assessing potential defences against hypersonic missiles, while Russian defence officials say they are still reviewing the threat.

But spokesman James Kallstrom said the United States had been “doing the research and development necessary” on the topic.

He told Fox News the United States is “working on the programme and testing.”

“If it’s the best technology anywhere around the world, we will certainly be one of the ones that decides whether we give it to you.”

In a written statement, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said “we are committed to all measures to protect our forces and partners from the growing threat of hypersonic weapons”.

This would include the tests conducted this month of the missile defence system’s “separate variant” for hypersonic aircraft, the Ground-based Midcourse Defence system, he said.

But he added: “We also know that it is not enough for one nation to develop a solution for our collective threat.”

Dozens of states are thought to have programmes to build hypersonic weapons.

Earlier this month, CNN reported Russia had tested a hypersonic missile powered by a plutonium core.

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