Weapon Systems

US Army's hypersonic weaponry boasts speeds of up to Mach 17


Development of the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) is under way. Hypersonic missiles stand out for their remarkable speed, making them difficult to detect.

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The US Navy and US Army conduct a test of hypersonic capabilities on October 21, 2021. [US Navy]
The US Navy and US Army conduct a test of hypersonic capabilities on October 21, 2021. [US Navy]

The US Army is exploring the frontier of cutting-edge hypersonic missiles with the development of its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW).

Under development since 2019, the LRHW consists of a ground-launched missile equipped with a hypersonic glide body and associated transport, support and fire control equipment.

This cutting-edge, medium-range, surface-to-surface hypersonic weapon -- dubbed the "Dark Eagle" -- boasts a reported range of 2,774km with hypersonic missiles that can travel over 6,120 km/h.

The United States started developing the weapon after its withdrawal in August 2019 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.

Established in 1987 between the United States and the Soviet Union, the treaty prohibited the development and deployment of nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with ranges between 500 and 5,500km.

In withdrawing from the agreement, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move came because Russia had failed to comply with its treaty obligations.

The treaty's dissolution shifted global military dynamics, allowing the United States to explore new frontiers in missile technology previously restricted and widening the range of possible solutions to develop longer-range weapons.

Increased speed

The LRHW's design features a substantial rocket booster that propels an unpowered common-hypersonic glide body housed within its nose cone.

Although the exact range remains classified, industry analysts have speculated that the weapon's capabilities extend significantly beyond the official figure because of its substantial 87.6cm diameter.

The US Navy's Tomahawk Cruise Missile, for example, has a 50.8cm diameter and can achieve a range of 1,000 to 2,400km.

The LRHW's prototypes have reached speeds of Mach 8 (9,880 km/h) during early testing phases. Once operational, the missile is expected to reach speeds of up to Mach 17 (21,000 km/h).

Hypersonic missiles stand out for their remarkable speed, traveling faster than Mach 5 and maneuvering between various altitudes, making them difficult to detect.

With its speed, the LRHW could hypothetically strike a target in Tehran from a launch point in Kuwait in approximately two minutes.

The US Army achieved a significant milestone with the LRHW in 2023, when a battalion deployed the weapon system over 5,000km in a full rehearsal of expeditionary hypersonic launch capabilities.

The 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, deployed the LRHW from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Cape Canaveral, Florida, during Thunderbolt Strike in February 2023.

The battalion, also known as a Strategic Long-Range Fires battalion, is part of the Army's 1st Multi Domain Task Force and is the first designated to operate the LRHW.

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America, or the US Air Force, are developing missiles to strike weak countries. However, if America entered war against Russia, Russia would be able to match America's sophisticated weapons.