A hypersonic missile — designed to reach a target anywhere in the world within one hour after being launched — was detonated by military personnel four seconds after it left the launchpad yesterday morning, according to the Washington Post. Military officials say the launch was terminated as soon as it occurred due to an “anomaly.”
The launchpad for the new hypersonic missile was located 25 miles from Kodiak, Alaska.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department, Maureen Schumann, said “We had to terminate. The weapon exploded during takeoff and fell back down in the range complex.”
The aborted hypersonic missile launch caused an undetermined amount of damage to the launch facility, but the missile wasn’t carrying an active warhead at the time of detonation, so the devastation wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Schumann said that an “anomaly” was detected immediately after the hypersonic missile left the launchpad, and the missile was detonated via a “self destruct mechanism” to ensure public safety. KMXT radio in Alaska reported that witnesses watched the liftoff at 12.25 a.m. local time from about a dozen miles away. They saw the hypersonic missile rise off the ground, quickly head nose-down back at the launch pad, and explode.
According to the Daily Mail, photographer Scott Wight saw the explosion. He described it as “quite loud and scary.” The explosion lit up a large swath of the nighttime Alaskan sky.
The rocket launched in Alaska is the booster section of the Pentagon’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. This hypersonic weapon is in turn part of an Army initiative called the Convention Prompt Global Strike Program. The idea is fairly simple. Design and build cheap but reliable missiles that can be launched from anywhere on the planet, and reach a destination target anywhere else on the planet at hypersonic speeds.
Spokesperson Schumann said about the project, “It’s a concept that will allow the Department of Defense to engage any target anywhere in the world in less than an hour.”
The first known U.S. test of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon launched from Hawaii on November 17th, 2011, and hit its target on the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific.
The test in Alaska was designed to hone previous ground testing, according to Schumann. The hypersonic rocket was supposed to launch from its berth near Kodiak and hit the Kwajalein Atoll in less than an hour.
Clearly, something went wrong.
Experts say that the United States’ development of hypersonic weapons is a response to the growing collection of conventional missiles being amassed by Iran and North Korea. Still other guesses say that the hypersonic program is in response to China, who tested a hypersonic missile of their own in January.
The competition over these new weapons could lead to a new hypersonic arms race with China, critics say.