Russia Reacts to U.S. Hypersonic Missile Failure

A U.S. hypersonic missile test failed because of the complexities of the rocket's design, according to a Russian defense analyst, who said that perfecting the project might take some time.

On Thursday, the Pentagon announced the failure of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB) test amid concerns that the U.S. is falling behind Russia and China in developing the weapons whose speed and maneuverability make them hard to defend against.

The test at Hawaii's Pacific Missile Range Facility was supposed to launch the weapon system on top of a two-stage missile booster, which would accelerate it to more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). Then the glide body would detach and use its speed to reach the target.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Tim Gorman said "an anomaly occurred following ignition of the test asset" without further specifying the nature of the anomaly or what stage of the test it had occurred.

"Program officials have initiated a review to determine the cause to inform future tests," he said in a statement, "the information gathered from this event will provide vital insights."

But Russian defense analyst Alexei Ramm told the Kremlin-friendly newspaper Izvestia his view about what happened, describing how the test had been hit by a "second-stage failure."

"Of course, a failed test will not stop the project. At the same time, it is already clear that it is unlikely that American engineers will be able to quickly solve the problem," he said.

Ramm told the newspaper that the presence of a second stage showed that the design of the rocket is too complex with high-tech elements that needed to be integrated. The newspaper said that this is a long process requiring much testing and launches.

"Russian hypersonic weapons developers do not try to create such overly complex missile systems. In particular, the Tsirkon flies quite successfully even without a second stage," Ramm told the paper.

A Tsirkon missile system is slated to enter service with the Russian Navy by the end of the year, Russian agencies reported last month.

Unlike pure hypersonic missiles which rely on an advanced propulsion system known as a scramjet, the Tsirkon is thought to use existing technology and has been described as a "hybrid cruise missile and ballistic missile."

It is thought to use a solid fuel booster to take the missile from launch to high altitude before it follows a semi-ballistic "skip-glide" trajectory towards its target. Experts have warned that it could overwhelm the American Aegis Combat System.

The failure of the U.S. missile test was the latest setback for the U.S. to develop hypersonic weapons. It was the second unsuccessful test flight of the prototype weapon known as Conventional Prompt Strike.

In the first flight test in October 2021, there was a booster failure, which prevented the missile from leaving the launch pad. The weapon is intended for Zumwalt destroyers and Virginia-class submarines, Bloomberg reported.

As the war rages in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly boasted about his country's hypersonic weapons prowess.

There is a growing fight for supremacy in the Black Sea, where such weapons could be used and where Ukrainian troops recaptured the strategically important Snake Island from Russia.

When contacted for comment, the Pentagon shared Gorman's media statement with Newsweek, which also said "experiments and tests, both successful and unsuccessful, are the backbone of developing highly complex, critical technologies at tremendous speed."

"Delivering hypersonic weapons remains a top priority and the Department remains confident that it is on track to field offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities on target dates beginning in the early 2020s."

Russia, Admiral, Gorshkov, fires, Tsirkon, missile
Russia's Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate test-fires the Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile from the White Sea in July 2021 in this illustrative image. The Pentagon announced on June 30 a failure of a hypersonic missile test amid concerns that Russia pulled ahead of the U.S. in the race for the weapons. Russian Ministry of Defense

Update 01/07/22, 11:25 a.m. EDT: This article has been updated with a Pentagon response.