Story updated to include comments from US Defense Department in paragraph 6.
A test of the Army’s advanced hypersonic weapon (AHW) was aborted shortly after an early morning takeoff on 25 August.
Around 04:00 Eastern Time, the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command launched the weapon but were forced to terminate the test “due to an anomaly”, according to a statement from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). It was the second test of the Army's hypersonic glide vehicle.
The weapon is the most promising of several technologies aimed at delivering a conventional warhead from US soil anywhere in the world within an hour of strike authorisation. The advanced hypersonic weapon is being tested by the army and Sandia National Laboratories, which is owned by Lockheed Martin Corp. The venture is a part of an umbrella defence department programme called Conventional Prompt Global Strike technology development (CPGS).
“Due to an anomaly, the test was terminated near the launch pad shortly after lift-off to ensure public safety,” the statement reads. “There were no injuries to any personnel.”
The failed US test comes on the heels of a successful Chinese hypersonic vehicle test in January that news reports say resembles CPGS.
OSD spokeswoman Maureen Schumann could not shed light on what went wrong with the test. The intended objective was to collect data on the glide vehicle during long-range atmospheric flight and to test and develop hypersonic glide capability, she said. The CPGS program is event driven, with the results of each test informing future experimental flights. Schumann said the results of the investigation would inform the programme's schedule moving forward.
“Program officials are conducting an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the flight anomaly,” the statement said.
AHW is a cone-shaped vehicle with winglets designed to fly within earth’s atmosphere faster than the speed of sound. The vehicle was successfully tested in 2011, when it was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. It flew 3,700km in about half an hour to the intended target in at the Reagan Test Site on the Marshall islands.
The US Air Force also is developing a global strike capability called the conventional strike missile. The service also has launched a joint effort with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called the hypersonic technology vehicle 2.
A 2011 test of that vehicle, which is capable of flying at 11,339.1kt (2,100 km/h), ended when an a flight anomaly caused it to splash into the Pacific Ocean. A subsequent investigation showed that material sheared from the machine’s fuselage, causing it roll and triggering its onboard computer to crash land.