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A hypersonic missile is a weapon system which flies at least at the speed of Mach 5 i.e. five times the speed of sound and is manoeuvrable.

A hypersonic missile is a missile that travels faster than Mach 5, or 3,836mph.

The manoeuvrability of the hypersonic missile is what sets it apart from a ballistic missile as the latter follows a set course or a ballistic trajectory.

Thus, unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles do not follow a ballistic trajectory and can be manoeuvred to the intended target.

The two types of hypersonic weapons systems are Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles.

The HGV are launched from a rocket before gliding to the intended target while the hypersonic cruise missile is powered by air breathing high speed engines or ‘scramjets’ after acquiring their target.

Hypersonic cruise missiles are propelled by a high-speed jet engine rather than gravitational forces used by more traditional ballistic missiles.

Hypersonic glide vehicles are launched high and propelled back through Earth’s atmosphere. The glide vehicle surfs on the atmosphere at between 40km and 100km in altitude, and reaches its destination by leveraging aerodynamic forces.

Advantages of Hypersonic Missiles

They can enable responsive, long range strike options against distant, defended or time critical threats (such as road mobile missiles) when other forces are unavailable, denied access or not preferred.

Conventional hypersonic weapons use only kinetic energy i.e. energy derived from motion, to destroy unhardened targets or even underground facilities.

Hypersonic weapons can challenge detection and defence due to their speed, manoeuvrability and low altitude of flight.

The Ground based radars or terrestrial radars cannot detect hypersonic missiles until late in the flight of the weapon.

This delayed detection makes it difficult for the responders to the missile attack to assess their options and to attempt to intercept the missile.