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Hypersonic missiles being developed by US, Russia and China could spark war, experts warn

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image An artist's rendering of a hypersonic missile concent Raytheon

Proliferation 'would give nations an incentive to become trigger-happy', RAND Corporation says

World powers developing hypersonic missiles must ensure they do not fall into the hands of rogue regimes which could use them to threaten the globe, researchers have warned.

The fast-moving weapons are “a new class of threat” because they are being designed to evade missile defence systems, and would give nations less time to respond to attacks, a study by the RAND Corporation think tank has claimed.

If the technology were to spread uncontrolled, countries might set their defences on a “hair trigger” and increase the chances of missile-based strategic war breaking out, the authors said.

Lead author Richard Speier said: “Hypersonic missile proliferation would increase the chances of strategic war. It would give nations an incentive to become trigger-happy.”

The world has less than 10 years to get a non-proliferation regime in place, it is suggested.

Hypersonic missiles’ threat comes not just from their extreme speed – they travel at Mach 5 or higher – but also their manoeuvrability, a trait not present in traditional ballistic missiles. 

Russia, China and the US are all developing their own versions of the technology, and RAND researchers said they should agree not to sell on complete systems or major subsystems.

They should also tightly control the export of dual-use components like scramjet engines, the authors said.

Scramjets can push a craft to hypersonic speed by combining inrushing air, instead of on-board liquid oxygen, with fuel.

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