Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The United States and Australia, in an agreement announced Monday by the U.S. Defense Department, will soon start speeding the development and testing of hypersonic weapons, officials of both governments said.
The process of certifying the missiles capable of flying five times the speed of sound, or up to 6,000 mph, has been accelerated by a regional arms race involving China and Russia, each working on hypersonic missile programs of their own.
The interest in air-launched missiles comes after defense strategists warned that a planned 10-year schedule of development is inadequate against potential threats.
Tests will begin within months, U.S. and Australian officials said.
"This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability," Michael Kratsios, the Pentagon's acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in a press release.
The effort between the two countries, called the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment, aims to advance development of air-breathing hypersonic technologies into flight demonstrations of full-size prototypes, the Pentagon said.
The program is expected to also pursue co-production opportunities, which in some cases already exist because of previous collaborative work in the last 15 years.
The missiles are expected to be a part of the U.S. and Australian arsenals within 5 to 10 years, using existing aircraft for launching. Australia reserved $6.84 billion in its 2020 defense budget for high-speed long range missiles.
The deal was signed last week, but Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds and then-U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper discussed the partnership during bilateral discussions in July.
In remarks prepared for Tuesday, Reynolds said that her government is "keeping Australians safe, while protecting the nation's interests in a rapidly changing global environment."
In October, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced the successful test of a missile that traveled thousands of miles at Mach 5 before striking within six inches of its target.
A week earlier, Russia announced the successful ship-based test-firing of its Zircon hypersonic missile striking a target 300 miles away after traveling at over 6,100 mph for less than five minutes.