The US, the UK and Australia on Tuesday said that they are to work together through the AUKUS security alliance to develop hypersonic missiles.
The move comes amid increasing concern among the US and its allies over China’s growing military assertiveness 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 that was launched by the three countries in September last year.
Photo: AFP / US Air Force
The leaders said in a joint statement that they are “committed today to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defense innovation.”
The US, Russia and China have all looked to further develop hypersonic missiles — a system so fast that it cannot be intercepted by current missile defense systems.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in October said that China had conducted a test of a hypersonic weapon system.
Milley described the Chinese test as a “very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it is very concerning,” in a Bloomberg Television interview.
Russia has used hypersonic missiles “multiple” times in Ukraine, Milley said.
Last fall, as US intelligence officials became increasingly concerned about the massing of Russian forces on the Ukraine border, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the country’s arms manufacturers to develop even more advanced hypersonic missiles to maintain the country’s edge in military technology.
The Russian military has said that its Avangard system is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound and of making sharp maneuvers on its way to a target to dodge the enemy’s missile shield.
The Avangard system has been fitted to existing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the first unit armed with the system entered duty in December 2019.
The Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000km and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, Russian officials have said.
The Pentagon’s budget request for next year includes US$4.7 billion for research and development of hypersonic weapons. It includes planning that would have a hypersonic missile battery fielded by next year, a sea-based missile by 2025 and an air-based cruise missile by 2027.
Biden, Johnson and Morrison have billed the creation of AUKUS as an opportunity to build greater sharing of defense capabilities.
As its first major action, the alliance said it would boost Australia’s defense by equipping it with nuclear-powered submarines.
Morrison said the development of hypersonic missiles fits Australia’s strategic plan released two years ago to enhance its military’s long-range strike capabilities.
“The paramount goal is to ensure we get that capability as soon as we can and it’s in the best form that can be working with our partners,” Morrison told reporters.
Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton earlier yesterday said that the country plans to spend US$2.6 billion to acquire long-range strike missiles for fighter jets and warships years ahead of schedule because of growing threats posed by Russia and China.
A draft security pact between the Solomon Islands and China has prompted concerns about a possible Chinese naval presence 1,930km off the northeast Australian coast.
The Solomon Islands government said that it would not allow China to build a military base there and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.
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