12:15 GMT18 January 2021
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    Canberra's relations with its overseas neighbour, which is already testing its first hypersonic armaments, have been deteriorating over the course of 2020 in light of disputes over the coronavirus pandemic and trade disagreements.

    Australia's Defence Ministry has announced that it will be taking part in a joint programme with the US to develop a hypersonic missile for the country's Defence Force (ADF). The country's Defence Minister Linda Reynolds stressed that the new weapon would help defend "the nation’s interests in a rapidly changing global environment" and to "deter actions" against the country.

    "We remain committed to peace and stability in the region, and an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific", the minister added.

    Canberra has allocated some $6.8 billion for a joint development programme for "high-speed long-range strike and missile defence", which will include the testing and evaluation of the developed weapon. The joint project, dubbed the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE), is, in turn, a part of a bigger initiative by Australia's government to invest almost $200 billion into the country's defence capabilities over the next decade.

    The move by the Australian government to boost its defensive and offensive capabilities comes amid a spate of rows with one of its overseas neighbours that also happens to be close to acquiring hypersonic weapons – China. The two have had several spats in 2020, including over Canberra's allegations regarding Beijing's role in spreading the coronavirus and over Australia's alleged illegal non-market assistance to some of its farmers operating on the Chinese market.

    Catching Up in Hypersonic Weapons?

    Reynolds did not lay out a timetable for the new weapon's development, but according to a Sydney Morning Herald report, the first prototype could be tested "within months". It is possible that SCIFiRE may be using an existing American development in the field, such as the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB).

    While some countries already either have a working hypersonic missile, like Russia, or are conducting trials of prototypes, like China, the US has long ignored this type of weapons in its military research.

    American hypersonic weapons development has long been dormant for a variety of reasons, but it was recently brought back to life again, supposedly after Moscow had the first successes in its own hypersonic missile programme. The US Navy will be spending over $1 billion in 2021 alone on hypersonic armaments development. The first successful trial of one such US missile, which President Donald Trump called "super-duper", took place in July 2020, with Washington reporting that it reached a speed of Mach 17. Comparatively, Russia's Avangard hypersonic glider vehicle, unveiled in 2018, reached a speed of up to Mach 27 during trials.


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