Australia will transform its warfighting capability with fastest missiles it has ever developed under a new agreement with the US.
Hypersonic missiles that can travel at five times the speed of sound – or between Sydney and Melbourne in just seven minutes – will be built by Australia and the United States under a milestone agreement.
It will be Australia’s entry to the global arms race to develop the technology for the fastest missiles ever made, although research has been underway for 15 years.
Australia’s defence industry, including small and medium businesses, will play a key role in building the weapons.
The Department of Defence will hold a meeting with industry representatives on Friday then assess involvement in the lucrative contract over the next six months.
The missiles, which will be launched from fighter jets, are part of a $9.3bn Federal Government investment in hypersonic research and high-speed, long-range strike capabilities and missile defence.
“Investing in capabilities that deter actions against Australia also benefits our region, our allies and our security partners,” Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.
“The Morrison Government remains committed to keeping Australians safe, while protecting the nation’s interests in a rapidly changing global environment.”
The hypersonic weapons will travel up to Mach 5, and will be launched from aircraft already in the RAAF fleet including Super Hornet, Growler, P-8 and F-35.
The missiles will have the capacity to destroy infrastructure including offshore aircraft or warships, with defence hoping they will be part of Australia’s arsenal within the next five to 10 years.
Australia has been working with the US on research into rocket motors, sensors and advanced manufacturing materials for more than 15 years.
The deal to develop and test prototypes, inked last week, follows discussions Senator Reynolds had during her landmark visit to the US in July.
Some testing of the hypersonic missiles will occur in Australia once the prototypes are built, with one expected to occur soon.
“Developing this game-changing capability with the US from an early stage is providing opportunities for Australian industry,” Senator Reynolds said.
“We remain committed to peace and stability in the region, and an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
US Defense Department spokesman Michael Kratsios said the collaboration was a true testament to the strong partnership between the US and Australia.
“This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development,” he said.
The air-launched missile prototypes will also inform the development of additional ground and sea-launched weapons as Australia seeks to bolster its warfighting capability.