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Missile defenseRussia successfully tests hypersonic missile which renders Western defenses obsolete

Published 8 June 2017

Russia says it has successfully tested a hypersonic missile, a year ahead of schedule. The missile is faster than any other missile currently deployed by the world’s armies, capable of reaching a speed of up to 4,600 mph, which is nearly six times the speed of sound— covering a distance of 155 miles in just 2.5 minutes. At that speed, no current missile defense would be capable of intercepting and destroying the missile as it travels toward its target. “We’re in a period of possible military parity again,” says a British defense analyst, adding that the new hypersonic missile will push Russia ahead.

Russia says it has successfully tested a hypersonic missile, a year ahead of schedule.

The government-controlled news agency Sputnik reported that the missile system, known as Zircon, could be installed on Pyotr Veliky, the country’s nuclear-powered missile strike ship.

Defense analyst Tim Ripley, who covers missile development for Jane’s Defense Weekly, told DW that the hypersonic missiles are a “quantum leap in technology.”

They are faster than any other missile currently deployed by the world’s armies, capable of reaching a speed of up to 4,600 mph, which is nearly six times the speed of sound— covering a distance of 155 miles in just 2.5 minutes. At that speed, no current missile defense would be capable of intercepting and destroying the missile as it travels toward its target.

Ripley noted that for all practical purposes, this rendered Western missile defenses, such as those deployed by the United States and the United Kingdom, “obsolete.”

“It will greatly reduce the reaction time that they (Western military) have to deploy their own defenses and counter-measures,” he said.

Britain, for example, has so far spent $8.7 billion on two new naval carriers — HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales —- which are expected to enter service in 2020. The carriers are equipped with anti-missile systems, but these systems can only stop missiles traveling at around half of Zircon’s speed.

The 5-ton Zircon can be programmed and reprogrammed during its flight to search out and attack its target. With added fuel, it could reach a distance of about 300 miles.

It was not a secret that Russia was developing the missiles, but Western intelligence services concluded that advanced tests of the missile would not take place before 2018.

The United States is working on developing its own hypersonic weapons, but these systems are not yet believed to be close to production.

Last year, a report by the U.S. National Academies of Science concluded that the United States was falling behind Russia and China in hypersonic weapons. The report called for further investment in missiles that travel, almost undetectably, at speeds of Mach 5 or faster.

Ripley told DW that the West should be worried about Russia’s military advances, warning that a new arms race was now unavoidable.

We’re in a period of possible military parity again. Recently we’ve had Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, where Russia has deployed weapons that are certainly on a par with their American and British equivalents, including cruise missiles from submarines,” he said, adding that Zircon will push Russia ahead.