The weapon is part of a program to create a missile that will
destroy targets anywhere on Earth within an hour of getting data and
permission to launch.
The mission was aborted to ensure public safety, and no one was
injured in the incident, which occurred shortly after 4 a.m. EDT at
the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, said Maureen Schumann, a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department.
"We had to terminate," Schumann said. "The weapon exploded during
takeoff and fell back down in the range complex," she added.
The incident caused an undetermined amount of damage to the launch
facility, Schumann said.
It was a setback for the U.S. program, which some analysts see as
countering the growing development of ballistic missiles by Iran and
North Korea but others say is part of an arms race with China, which
tested a hypersonic system in January.
Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy
Alliance, said he did not think Monday's failure would lead to the
program's termination. "This is such an important mission and there
is promise in this technology," he said.
He said officials aborted the mission after detecting a fault in the
Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies think tank, said the technology was best
suited for use against smaller, less-developed countries with
"The United States has never assumed that these ... are going to be
systems that you can use against a power like China by themselves,"
he said. "For a country like Iran or North Korea, they could be a
very significant deterrent."
James Acton, a defense analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, said the Pentagon had never been clear about
the mission for the weapon, with some viewing it as an effective
tool against terrorists and others seeing it as a counter to China
or Iran and North Korea.
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While hypersonic weapons are unlikely to be fielded for a decade,
Acton said the fact that Washington and Beijing were both testing
the weapons indicated there was a real potential for an arms race.
"I believe the U.S. program is significantly more sophisticated than
the Chinese program," he said.
The weapon, known as the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, was developed
by Sandia National Laboratory and the U.S. Army.
Schumann said it included a glide body mounted on a three-stage,
solid-propellant booster system known as STARS, for Strategic Target
In a previous test in November 2011, the craft had successfully
flown from Hawaii to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,
she said. On Monday, it was supposed to fly from Alaska to the
Acton said no conclusions could be drawn about the weapon based on
Monday's accident because the launcher detonated before the glide
vehicle could be deployed.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Alexander; Editing by David
Storey and Leslie Adler)
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