Australia, the United States and Britain have agreed to cooperate on hypersonic weapons and electronic warfare capabilities, the leaders of those countries said, following a call about their new defence alliance.
The weapons would include long-range missiles, launched from land, air and sea, which can travel five times the speed of sound and are understood to be far more difficult for existing radar to detect.
Aside from their faster speeds, hypersonic missiles are more difficult to defend against because they travel at low altitude and can change direction mid-flight.
The joint US-UK-Australian plan to research and develop the weapons is understood to be an effort to catch up with Russia and China, which have already developed and used hypersonic weapons.
Russia claimed to have used hypersonic weapons several times during the Ukraine conflict, including to destroy an arms depot.
It tested the 3M22 Tsirkon weapon last October that Vladimir Putin claimed travels up to Mach 9.
Scott Morrison announced the new AUKUS plans with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday morning.
The ‘hypersonic’ missiles to be developed between Australia, the US and Britain can be launched from land, air or sea, can travel five times the speed of sound and are understood to be impossible for existing radar to detect
The hypersonic missiles would be capable of being launched from land, air or sea
China’s testing of a 25,000mph hypersonic nuclear-capable missile has indicated that Beijing’s missile programme is more advanced than previously thought, amid an intensifying race for the next generation of long-rang weapons that are harder to detect and intercept
Also discussed were plans for undersea drones, which could be trialled as early as 2023, and artificial intelligence technologies.
The AUKUS alliance, launched last September, prompted Australia to cancel a contract for a conventional French submarine in favour of a nuclear submarine program supported by the US and the UK, damaging relations with French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a joint statement, AUKUS leaders Johnson, Biden and Morrison said they were pleased with the progress of the program for conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, and that the allies would co-operate in other areas too.
‘We also committed today to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities,’ the leaders said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The three countries also committed to expanding information sharing and deepening cooperation on defence innovation.
‘These initiatives will add to our existing efforts to deepen cooperation on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities,’ they said.
‘As our work progresses on these and other critical defence and security capabilities, we will seek opportunities to engage allies and close partners.’
The US and Australia already have a hypersonic weapon program called SCIFiRE, an acronym for Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment.
British officials said that though Britain would not join that program at this point, the three countries would work together on research and development in the area to expand their options.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued an agreed statement in which they reiterated ‘unwavering commitment’ to an international system which ‘respects human rights’
Footage of the 3M22 Tsirkon, a Russian test of one of its hypersonic cruise missiles in October 2021
The Biden administration is investing in the research and development of hypersonic missiles, which travel at five times the speed of sound after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine intensified concerns about European security.
‘In light of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, we reiterated our unwavering commitment to an international system that respects human rights, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion,’ the leaders said.
‘We reaffirmed our commitment to AUKUS and to a free and open Indo-Pacific.’
Russia says it launched a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine on February 24 to demilitarise its neighbour.
The Kremlin’s position is rejected by Ukraine and the West as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
Although China is understood to have successfully tested its own hypersonic weapon, the WU-14, it officially expressed anger at the new AUKUS development.
China has expressed anger at the new agreement between the US, Australia and the UK to develop hypersonic weaponry
Asked about the cooperation deal between Britain, the US and Australia on hypersonic weapons, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun on Tuesday warned against measures that could fuel a crisis like the Ukraine conflict in other parts of the world.
‘Anyone who does not want to see the Ukrainian crisis should refrain from doing things which may lead the other parts of the world into a crisis like this,’ Zhang told reporters.
‘As the Chinese saying goes: If you do not like it, do not impose it against the others.’
The leaders also said they were ‘pleased with the progress’ Australia was making in the development of nuclear-powered submarines.