This test opens the way to a second version which will allow the State to develop a new generation of hypersonic weapons if it deems it necessary.
According to a statement from the Directorate General of Armaments quoted by several media such as Le Figaro, our country has just settled into a very closed club: France has become the fifth nation in the world to pass the test of a hypersonic glider (or HGV, for Hypersonc Glide Vehicle).
The machine, called V-Max, is developed by ArianeGroup in collaboration with Onera. It was tested for the first time on Monday in the south-west of the country. The success of the operation was confirmed by the DGA the following day. This is a big step forward for this advanced military technology. This success will allow France to remain at the forefront of the military industry, in a context of considerable geopolitical tensions.
An ultra-fast and almost elusive machine
This hypersonic glider is a device deployed thanks to an intercontinental missile, that is to say with a range greater than 5,500 km. As its name suggests, it is capable of flying beyond Mach 5, five times the speed of sound in air. Its particularity is that it is not a ballistic device strictly speaking. These gliders follow a different trajectory than conventional ICBMs.
Instead of rising a few hundred kilometers before plunging straight to their target, they are able to achieve complex maneuvers along the way. Very vulgarly, they exploit the physical properties of the different layers of the atmosphere to go up and down at leisure. According to Challenges, we are talking about “ atmospheric bounces “.
The interest is that this greatly complicates the task of missile defense systems like the famous American Patriot. As a general rule, the latter calculate the speed and position of a missile at a time T so as to be able to intercept it before impact.
This predictive approach works very well when the object follows a purely ballistic trajectory. On the other hand, it does not destroy weapons capable of adapting their trajectory in real time. This equipment therefore has a very high destructive potential. In theory, they could pierce the majority of defense systems that currently exist.
Where does France stand compared to the other great powers?
Given the strategic importance of these technologies, the communication of States on this subject is often rather vague. It is quite difficult to know exactly where the major programs are.
For example, Russia has long proudly claimed its mastery of hypersonic flight. But as pointed out by Thomas Schumacher, an analyst in strategy and defense interviewed by La Dépêche, recent developments in the war in Ukraine have shown that these assertions should not necessarily be taken literally.
Same observation on the side of China. It is common knowledge that the country of Xi Jinping is very involved in the development of this technology, as shown by the recent construction of a specialized wind tunnel.
Here is the most powerful hypersonic wind tunnel in the world
What is certain is that these hypersonic weapons constitute a priority for the world’s major military powers. In particular, they see them as excellent deterrents.
Currently, only Russia, and China to a lesser extent, already claim operational hypersonic weapons. The rest of the world is trying to catch up. The United States, and eventually India and North Korea are following suit. All these countries now have equipment that is already relatively advanced, but not yet mature. Other countries, such as Japan, have also launched programs of this type (see this article). But they have not yet produced concrete results.
With the successful test of the V-max, France is therefore well placed to secure its place in the leading pack. With all that this implies at the strategic and diplomatic levels. And that’s just the beginning.
The V-max will be followed by a second demonstrator, soberly baptized V-max 2. In a report of a hearing of the National Defense and Armed Forces Commission published on the website of the National Assembly, Charles- Henri du Ché, ArianeGroup Defense Advisor, indicated that this successor could arrive quite quickly, between 2024 and 2025.
If the V-max 2 meets the expectations of Onera and the DGA, France will then have considerable expertise in hypersonic technology. The government can then decide to leave it at that for the moment… or to go directly to the concrete phase, namely the production of real operational military equipment. ” It will then be up to the General Staff to express or not the needs for declination in weapon systems concludes du Ché.