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Pentagon's plans for hypersonic weapons sees setback after rocket fizzles

By Jake Thomas
Pentagon's plans for hypersonic weapons sees setback after rocket fizzles
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

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Pentagon's hypersonic weapons program hit a stumbling block Thursday after a test of a booster rocket failed.

A booster rocket carrying a hypersonic glide body failed during a test at Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak, reports CBS News. The booster was not directly related to hypersonic technology, and instead just the booster, Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told CBS News in a statement.

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"The booster stack used in the test was not part of the hypersonic program and is not related to the Common Hypersonic Glide Body," he said. "The missile booster is used for testing purposes only."

The U.S. Department of Defense has prioritized developing hypersonic missiles, which are capable of traveling at speeds five times beyond the speed of sound and potentially carrying nuclear warheads. The missiles are also difficult to detect.

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The Pentagon is still on track to field offensive hypersonic technology within the next few years, Gorman said.

But the Pentagon was unable to test the hypersonic glide body, a key part to the weapons system, because the rocket failed to launch, reports CNN. A related test failed in April, and China has successfully tested a hypersonic a glide vehicle -- although officials denied the report and insisted it was a "routine spacecraft experiment."

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In June, the department said it was accelerating its hypersonic missile program while staying within its $6.6 billion budget. The move came as the department began a missile defense review to match its technology against rival countries including North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.

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The Navy successfully tested a second-stage hypersonic rocket motor in August. A month earlier, the U.S. Air Force successfully detonated a hypersonic missile warhead for the first time.

Earlier this month, Russia's Defense Ministry said it successfully test-fired its hypersonic Tsirkon missile from a submarine.

However, the U.S. Army and Navy on Wednesday successfully completed tests of hypersonic missiles, according to a statement.

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"During weapon system development, precision sounding rocket launches fill a critical gap between ground testing and full system flight testing," the Navy said in a statement. "These launches allow for frequent and regular flight testing opportunities to support rapid maturation of offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies."

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