Biden announces US, UK and Australian cooperation on hypersonic weapons

The US, Britain and Australia will work together to develop hypersonic weapons and expand a trilateral security pact designed to help Washington and its allies respond to China’s rapid expansion of its military.

President Joe Biden is preparing to unveil the extension of the so-called Aukus Security Pact with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to three people familiar with the situation. One of the people said an announcement could come as early as Tuesday in Washington.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The push to cooperate on developing hypersonic weapons marks recent efforts to increase cooperation between the three countries to counter China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. Last year, the states signed a pact for the US and Britain to help Australia get nuclear energy submarines.

The agreement comes as the Pentagon ramps up its efforts on hypersonic weapons after realizing China has taken a leap forward in developing the technology. China has conducted several hundred tests of hypersonic missiles traveling at more than five times the speed of sound. That’s far more than the US military, which has conducted fewer than a dozen tests.

The FT previously reported that China last year a hypersonic weapon flew around the earth launched into space in a rocket. The weapon — known as a hypersonic glide vehicle — fired a projectile as it flew over the South China Sea. Pentagon military scientists were stunned that China had overcome some of the physical limitations that make it very difficult to launch a missile from a weapon traveling at such speeds.

in one recent interview with the FT Admiral John Aquilino, head of the Indo-Pacific Command, and General James Dickinson, head of Space Command, said the US and Australia would increase cooperation in space and on the internet, partly because of growing concerns about Chinese hypersonic weapons.

“The ability to identify, track and defend against this hypersonic is really key,” Aquilino said in Alice Springs two days ago in a meeting with Australian security and intelligence officials at Pine Gap, a top-secret satellite intelligence facility that the CIA and Australia are operated jointly.

Hypersonic missiles pose a problem for the US because they can maneuver at very high speeds in flight, unlike ballistic missiles, which follow a specific trajectory, making them easier to intercept.

The system tested by China last year made it possible to send hypersonic weapons over the South Pole, posing another problem for US missile defenses earmarked for missile threats over the North Pole.

In the recent interview, Gen. Dickinson said his top priority is improving “space awareness” — meaning the ability to detect and track missile threats — and that the US and its partners need to invest more in the effort.

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Adam Bradshaw

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