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Arms makers scramble to defeat Putin’s hypersonic missile threat

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 24/07/2022 Howard Mustoe
A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet carries a high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile - AP/Pavel Golovkin © AP/Pavel Golovkin A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet carries a high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile - AP/Pavel Golovkin

Arms companies are scrambling to come up with a defence against Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles amid fears they could offer a decisive advantage to hostile powers.

Andy Thomis, head of the defence company Cohort, said that his business is working on a project to defeat the weapons, which can travel five times faster than the speed of sound and are currently extremely difficult to shoot down.

Mr Thomis, whose company is based in Reading and supplies kit for Royal Navy submarines, said: “Being able to develop convincing countermeasures against them is a really important step forward.

“It's a real challenge. There's no doubt about that.”

Typical rockets fly at about Mach 3, while hypersonics travel at Mach 5 or faster.

As well as being incredibly fast, they have an unpredictable flight path that makes them hard to track.

China reportedly fired a hypersonic projectile around the globe in a test last year, while in May a Russian warship test launched a Zircon cruise missile that can travel at nine times the speed of sound.


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The weapons typically fall into two categories - a powered variant which uses a particularly fast type of jet engine called a scramjet, or a projectile launched from high in the sky that bounces off the atmosphere to reach its target.

Either way, to develop a good defence against these weapons, a system must monitor a much larger area to detect and intercept them.

Wes Kremer, president of US arms maker Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said that the focus is likely to be monitoring missiles from space using large constellations of satellites. 

The only concession the missiles offer is that they are comparatively delicate because of the huge amounts of heat they must manage.

Mr Kremer said: “It doesn't take much damage to that heat dissipation system to quickly have a burn through and destroy it.

Defence against hypersonic missiles “is in its infancy,” he added, with only one project in the US working on a remedy.

China’s rapid military expansion is particularly driving demand, Mr Thomis said.

Last year China spent $293bn on defence, helping Cohort to win orders for anti submarine warfare equipment from the Philippines and other nations in the region.

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