23:55 GMT30 October 2020
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    The test was said to have taken advantage of the Pentagon's recent advances in AI technology.

    The Pentagon’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defence for Research and Engineering has shown off footage of an Air Force anti-ballistic missile test involving the mid-flight destruction of a cruise missile target by an advanced hypersonic-capable Army howitzer projectile.

    The footage shows a cruise missile blasting off toward its target, with howitzers firing what looks like two different calibres of shells at it and ultimately destroying it as dramatic music plays in the background.

    The ‘mock Russian projectile’ in the video appears to be a BQM-167 Skeeter, an aerial target drone operated by the US Air Force regularly which is used for target practice. The drone has an estimated top speed of Mach 0.91 (1,115 km per hour, which is significantly slower than any of Russia's real new hypersonic weapons), and a per unit cost of $570,000.

    The projectile system is said to be capable of being fitted on US warships, including the Arleigh Burke and new Zumwalt-class of destroyers, and hasa been deemed a cost-effective alternative to missile-based missile defences.

    The testing, which took place at the White Sands Missile Testing Range in New Mexico on 3 September, was part of ongoing work on the so-called ‘Advanced Battle Management System’ (ABMS) for the Pentagon’s new Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, concept, which eventually aims to create a loose meta-network capable of sharing all kinds of information across physical (land, sea, air, space) and digital (cyberspace) domains.

    The Pentagon says the surrogate ‘Russian’ missiles used were detected and destroyed using advanced AI-driven software which may be used in possible future conflicts with Russia or China.

    Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, praised the test results, emphasising that “future battlefields will be characterised by information saturation”.

    “One of the key objectives of this onramp was to present a dizzying array of information for participants to synthesise, just like they would in a real world operation,” he said.

    Testing of the ABMS concept began in December, with Washington committing $3.3 billion to the project. The programme has faced flak in recent months following the release of a scathing report by the Government Accountability Office saying it was approved without key planning elements such as precise success standards, cost estimates, an affordability analysis, and how the military plans to field the new technology.

    Russia unveiled its hypersonic weapons programme in 2018, with the Kinzhal (‘Dagger’) air-launched hypersonic missile system fielded beginning in late 2017, and other systems, including the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, expected to come on line in the coming years. The Kinzhal has an estimated top speed of up to Mach 10 (12,350 km per hour) and the ability to manoeuvre during flight, making it almost impossible to intercept and destroy.

    Moscow has emphasised that its new missiles are capable of evading any existing or prospective enemy air defences, and that they are designed to serve as an asymmetric response to US missile defence platforms, including those being set up in Poland and Romania. Russian military officials maintain that their main goal in fielding the weapons is to ensure the preservation of global strategic stability –including guaranteeing a Russian ability to respond in the event of an enemy massed nuclear or conventional first strike.

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