France has launched a hypersonic glider demonstrator programme with a first flight targeted for 2021.
France aims to fly a hypersonic glider demonstrator by 2021. The announcement was made by Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on 21st January. ArianeGroup will be prime contractor on the project, which will be conducted under overall project management by the French defence procurement agency, DGA. The programme is designated V-max (véhicule manoeuvrant expérimental or experimental manoeuvring vehicle).
Hypersonic gliders — unpowered, manoeuvring vehicles flying at speeds greater than Mach 5 (6,000km/h) — have been under study by the major nuclear powers for several years. To reach hypersonic speed, the glider is boosted by a missile or rocket; most current projects rely on ballistic missiles.
The glider can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead. It represents an alternative to warheads currently deployed on ballistic missiles, with the advantage of possessing the capability to perform manœuvres at extremely high speed to evade enemy air defence systems.
The French programme will be designed to evaluate the potential advantages and limitations of the concept and to study the technologies necessary to develop such a system. The DGA says it will explore the technological trade-offs necessary to achieve hypersonic speed.
The primary challenge will be to remain manoeuvrable at hypersonic speed and to withstand extremely high temperatures. The programme will aim to explore suitable materials of construction and the mass of the warhead that could be carried by a hypersonic glider depending on its size.