Britain will participate in the development of high-speed and nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles for the first time, in the latest widening of the AUKUS military alliance.
The tri-national security pact of Australia, the UK, and the US, was unveiled in September under the guise of helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines. However, the announcement resulted in Canberra ditching a previous multi-billion pound contract with France, leading to condemnation from Paris.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the trio announced that they would now “commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities. ”
Australia is already co-operating with Washington on hypersonic weapon development as part of the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE). UK officials said they will not be formally joining SCIFiRE. They will instead co-operate in research and development in the area so they can expand their options.
Hypersonic missiles travel at five times the speed of sound and can be armed with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Faster than cruise missiles, they can in theory evade existing air defence systems. The US, Russia, and China have all undertaken testing of the weapon.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: “The latest expansion of the AUKUS military pact will further escalate global tensions, at a time when the threat of nuclear war is at its highest in decades. The announcement that a programme initially centred on providing a non-nuclear state with nuclear-powered submarines – in itself risking wider nuclear proliferation – will now include hypersonic missiles, is of great concern. This AUKUS expansion will accelerate arms racing in the Asia-Pacific region, leading to increased militarisation, and potentially helping provoke conflict over Taiwan. Not to mention the fact that military budgets are already escalating – what will the opportunity cost be for embarking on a whole new class of weaponry be?”