An artists impression of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon

US hypersonic weapon destroyed seconds after launch

A hypersonic weapon being developed by the US military was destroyed four seconds after launch after controllers detected a problem with the system.

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, but the mission had to be aborted to ensure public safety.

No one was injured in the incident, which occurred shortly after 4am EDT (8am GMT) at the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, said Maureen Schumann, a spokeswoman for the US Defense Department.

"We had to terminate," Schumann said. "The weapon exploded during takeoff and fell back down in the range complex."

The weapon, known as the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, was developed by Sandia National Laboratory and the US Army. Schumann said it included a glide body mounted on a three-stage, solid-propellant booster system known as STARS, for Strategic Target System.

The incident caused an undetermined amount of damage to the launch facility, Schumann said.

In a previous test in November 2011, the craft had successfully flown from Hawaii to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, she said. Yesterday, it was supposed to fly from Alaska to the Kwajalein Atoll.

Riki Ellison, founder of the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said he did not think yesterday'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 computers.

James Acton, a defence 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.

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 US program is significantly more sophisticated than the Chinese program," he said.

Acton said no conclusions could be drawn about the weapon based on yesterday's accident because the launcher detonated before the glide vehicle could be deployed.

Anthony Cordesman, a defence 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 missiles.

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