Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS) agreed to jointly develop nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons and electronic warfare capabilities.
The military agreement is a new element in the AUKUS pact, originally announced in October 2021 to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra.
A statement from U.S. President Joe Biden, UK PM Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison described the agreement as “new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonic” weapons.
“The AUKUS partners will work together to accelerate the development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities,” the statement said on Tuesday.
Hypersonic missiles – whether nuclear or not – travel at least five times the speed of sound, faster than conventional cruise missiles. They are designed to be maneuverable, allowing them, in theory, to evade conventional missile defenses.
The three countries are also collaborating on autonomous underwater vehicles, initial trials and experimentation of this capability is planned for 2023, the statement said.
The U.S. and Australia already have a hypersonic weapon program called SCIFiRE the UK will most likely not join that program at this point.
The three countries intend to work on researching both types of hypersonic technology – missiles and glide vehicles – and examine ways of countering the threat they may pose.
Biden said in March that Russia had used its Kinzhal nuclear-capable hypersonic missile against Ukrainian targets, describing it as “a consequential weapon” that was “almost impossible to stop.” Russia claimed it had used them twice, against targets near Mykolaiv and elsewhere in the west of Ukraine.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a routine press conference on Wednesday that exploiting the Ukraine crisis and using the pretext of maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific, AUKUS has declared in a high-profile manner that the U.S. and the UK will provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and the three countries will cooperate in developing advanced military technologies such as hypersonic weapons.