PARIS --- France has awarded ArianeGroup a contract to develop a hypersonic glider technology demonstrator that is due to make its first flight by the end of 2021, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly announced Jan. 21.
"We have decided to award a contract for a hypersonic glider demonstrator," able to reach a speed of over Mach 5 (over 6,000 km/h),” Parly said during her New Year’s address to the armed forces.
France is already conducting studies on hypersonic propulsion as part of the modernization of its nuclear deterrent, but such a glider, initially propelled by a rocket or a missile, is attractive for military missions because its unpredictable trajectory allows it to escape interception.
The French hypersonic demonstrator is designated V-Max, for Véhicule Manoeuvrant Expérimental. It will be about 2 meters long, a “hyperfast system capable of hypermaneuvrability,” a source told the Paris daily L’Opinion
"We could not wait anymore"
"A hypersonic glider is something that can be steered, and which can reach speeds of over five times the speed of sound; the goal is high-speed maneuverability, which s much different from a ballistic trajectory,” a source; in the Directorate-General of Armaments told the newsweekly L’Express. "Once the initial velocity has been reached, we will trade off speed against altitude to climb, dive, turn right or left, along a flight path which is much more difficult to intercept. And, if engaged by anti-missile defenses, we can maneuver to avoid them.”
"Many nations are procuring such weapons, and we have all the necessary skills to develop one: we could not wait," Parly said. Indeed, three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are already engaging in a new arms race for this kind of weapon: Chine, Russia and the United States.
In December, Moscow boasted that the capabilities of its new hypersonic weapons make them "practically" impossible to shoot down, after a test in which a hypersonic missile called "Avangard" reached a speed of over Mach 20 to hit its target at a distance of 3,700 km.