Third Country With Hypersonic Missile: After Russia & China, Will Iran ‘Outspeed’ The US To Deploy Mach 5+ Weapons?

Amir Ali Hajizadeh revealed that Iran might be the third country, following Russia and China, to possess a hypersonic missile and potentially outpace the US in deploying Mach 5+ weapons.

Iran will soon present a new hypersonic missile after conducting all the necessary tests, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, said on Monday.

“The tests of this (hypersonic) missile have been conducted, and it will be demonstrated soon,” Iranian news agency IRIB quoted him as saying.

The commander added that the new missile can fly at a speed of 12-15 Mach (8,893-11,116 miles per hour), is maneuverable both inside and outside the atmosphere, and is capable of targeting enemy missile defense systems.

In November 2022, Tehran said it had developed the first national hypersonic ballistic missile. The United States said at the time that it was “skeptical” of Iran’s reports.

Are Hypersonic Missiles Invincible?

Hypersonic missiles might not be the ultimate invincible weapon as boasted by China and Russia. At least, the US defense establishment appears to believe so.

Hypersonic missiles are the new lethal weapons in the arsenal of Russia and China to project their power. In the Ukraine-Russia war, the Kinzhal has been received with awe and terror.

Most recently, China war-gamed to destroy a US aircraft carrier group with its latest long-ranging hypersonic ballistic missile DongFeng-27 to signal the arrival of its “Blue Dragon” strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

This arch-nemesis of the US have been quite boastful of its hypersonic weapons program and have already been deploying them to deny area access to the US. But the US hypersonic weapons programs are trailing owing to a lack of a plan, technological gaps, and a belief that ballistic missiles are a better and cost-effective bet against an adversary.

The US Army, Navy, and Air Force have their own non-nuclear hypersonic missile development program to develop weapons that fly five times faster than the speed of sound and spend most of their flight in the Earth’s atmosphere.

These missiles are designed to be maneuverable and capable of striking targets in 15-30 minutes from thousands of miles away. However, the US technology is yet to reach the deployable stage.

China claimed to have deployed a hypersonic glide vehicle system, the DF-17, in 2020. Its DongFeng-27, with a range of 5,000–8,000 kilometers, is already in service. Russia has also deployed two missiles, the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile, and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

The US is committed to developing conventional hypersonic systems, while China and Russia are seeking dual-capable systems having conventional and nuclear capabilities. The US has traditionally kept the system for delivering nuclear and conventional payloads separate to remove ambiguity.

Amidst the intensified hypersonic missile arms race, the US in April confirmed that the progress on deploying its first “Dark Eagle” long-range weapon system looks promising. In 2021, the US Army was equipped with missile launchers sans missiles. The program had also been riddled with test failures and delays.

Initially, the Army had planned to conduct three flight tests of the system before deploying the weapon in the 2023 fiscal year. But the failures of the first two tests pushed the timeline for the third test.

The US Air Force, in light of the fast-paced hypersonic missile program of China and Russia, jumped some timelines to conduct a flight test in January 2023. During the trial, the hypersonic scramjet missile was launched from a B-52 bomber, and it flew at speeds greater than Mach 5 and for more than 300 nautical miles.

The second test was conducted in March 2023 as the weapon failed to transmit in-flight data.

While acknowledging that the test failed, the US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing that Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program will be revisited during the 2025 budget.

Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) Director, Moshe Patel, said that the future of missile defense lies in lasers and beams rather than warheads.

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