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Defence contractor Raytheon Technologies Corp is developing hypersonic weapons for the US military. Photo: Reuters

US is ‘years behind’ China on hypersonic weapons, Raytheon head says

  • Defence contractor CEO Gregory Hayes says the superfast technology is the most destabilising threat to the homeland
  • While the Pentagon has a number of programmes in development, the Chinese military has actually fielded the weapons
The head of defence contractor Raytheon has said the US is years behind China in its pursuit of hypersonic weapons which can bob and weave through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.

Hypersonics capability is “the most destabilising threat to the homeland. The time to react is very, very short,” said Gregory Hayes, CEO of Raytheon Technologies, which is developing a hypersonic cruise missile with the US military.


US ‘deeply concerned’ despite China denying it recently tested hypersonic nuclear missile

US ‘deeply concerned’ despite China denying it recently tested hypersonic nuclear missile

While the Pentagon has a number of hypersonic weapons programmes in development and the US understands the technology, China has “actually fielded hypersonic weapons,” he said in a Bloomberg television interview on Tuesday. “We are at least several years behind.” 

The emerging, ultra-fast weapon systems have sparked concerns because of their potential to destabilise relations between the US, China and Russia. They may also become a front in the mounting competition between Beijing and Washington as the world’s two largest economies clash over trade, technology and humanitarian issues.

Hayes’ comments followed reports that China conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer, including one of a so-called hypersonic glide vehicle. Launched from a missile or rocket, the craft separates and zips toward a target while manoeuvring through the atmosphere.

Such weapons can reach speeds of 22,000 miles per hour, he said. “We have to have automated systems to defend the homeland, and we are focused on that.”

In September, Raytheon’s missiles and defence unit successfully test-fired a hypersonic cruise missile that can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, as part of a development contract for the US air force and the Defence Department’s advanced technology development agency.

“We will have weapons to challenge the adversaries but most importantly I think our focus is how do we develop counter-hypersonics,” Hayes said. “That’s where the challenge will be.”