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India launched the demonstration vehicle on Monday from an island off the state of Odisha. Photo: Indian defence ministry

India joins hypersonic club with successful test flight of cruise vehicle

  • Defence ministry says demonstration vehicle with scramjet engine reached an altitude of 30km and six times the speed of sound
  • It comes amid growing concerns over a new arms race in hypersonic weapons between China, Russia and the United States

India has become the fourth country to successfully flight test hypersonic technology, joining an elite club alongside the US, Russia and China with the ability to develop missiles that can travel several times faster than the speed of sound.

The Indian defence ministry announced it had conducted the historic flight test of a demonstration vehicle on Monday from an island off Odisha, an eastern coastal state in India. In a statement, the ministry said its hypersonic cruise vehicle with an indigenously developed scramjet engine had reached an altitude of 30km (98,425ft) and travelled at six times the speed of sound.

“All the performance parameters have indicated a resounding success of the mission,” the statement said. “On this successful demonstration, the country enters into the hypersonic regime, paving the way for advanced hypersonic vehicles.”

The ministry also released a 24-second video of the launch on its website.

The hypersonic cruise vehicle was powered by an indigenously developed scramjet engine. Photo: Indian defence ministry
India’s latest advancement comes as concerns have grown over a new arms race in the development of hypersonic weapons between existing nuclear powers – China, Russia and the United States. Hypersonic weapons, usually defined as those that can reach five times the speed of sound, have raised fears about “invincible” arms that cannot be intercepted by existing defence systems.
The US said in March it had successfully tested a hypersonic missile prototype, in a bid to catch up after China announced its deployment of hypersonic weapons last October and Russia did so in late December.
India’s hypersonic test also comes as military tensions have ratcheted up between China and India, in an ongoing stand-off at their disputed border after skirmishes between the two sides in early May. While there have been several rounds of talks, frictions have continued along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border between the Asian neighbours.

The China-India border dispute: its origins and impact

Beijing on Tuesday accused Indian troops of firing warning shots at the western section of the LAC near the south bank of Pangong Lake, which would be the first time shots had been fired in the long-standing dispute in 45 years. The Indian army dismissed the claims, saying it was Chinese troops that had fired “a few rounds in the air”.
This followed accusations that five Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh, India’s northeastern state along the border, were abducted by Chinese soldiers.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after the successful test that “very few countries have such capability”. Photo: Reuters

Indian media on Monday cited sources saying that India’s latest hypersonic test meant that the country would have the capacity to develop a hypersonic missile in the next five years, and that the technology could also be used to launch satellites at a lower cost.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to social media on Monday evening to celebrate the successful hypersonic test.

“The scramjet engine developed by our scientists helped the flight achieve a speed six times the speed of sound!” he tweeted. “Very few countries have such capability today.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: India joins hypersonic flight club