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Defense Dept.: U.S. accelerating hypersonic missile development

Airmen secure the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 as it is loaded under the wing of a B-52H during a test last August. Photo by Giancarlo Casem/U.S. Air Force
Airmen secure the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 as it is loaded under the wing of a B-52H during a test last August. Photo by Giancarlo Casem/U.S. Air Force

June 9 (UPI) -- Development of hypersonic missiles is accelerating, but the Department of Defense said on Wednesday it is staying within its $6.6 billion budget for the weapons program.

Mike White, hypersonics director in the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering office, told the non-profit Center for Strategic and International Studies last week that the U.S. military's program to develop hypersonic missiles is a key element of the Defense Department's modernization efforts, according to a Pentagon press release.

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The weapons, capable of traveling at speeds beyond five times the speed of sound -- and potentially with nuclear warhead capability -- are being advanced as a family of weapons capable of launch from land, sea or air, White said.

Each military branch, the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. allies are involved in initiatives, he added, although the Government Accountability Office said in March that the push to achieve hypersonic weapons should better define the roles and duties of those in leadership.

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The GAO noted that the development of hypersonic weapons and related technologies has cost about $14 billion since it started in 2015, through 70 identified efforts.

Hypersonic weapons can evade traditional missile defense systems, in addition to their unprecedented speed, and additional development efforts include defensive measures against an enemy's hypersonic capabilities -- Russia, China and the United States are are all racing to deploy the missiles.

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White said that Congress and the White House have been supportive of the development effort.

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The Defense Department's Fiscal Year 2022 budget for "long-range fires," including hypersonic, is $6.6 billion, with a goal of testing and producing missiles by the early to mid-2020s.

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