Monday evening, France tested for the first time an experimental hypersonic glider, dubbed V-Max, which left intriguing zigzag tracks in the skies of the Southwest.
White streaks were observed Monday, June 26 in the sky by many inhabitants of the Southwest, raising many questions. Indeed, photos posted to social media in the evening show strange zigzag-shaped clouds.
@SO_Bordeaux Is this modern weather art or does there have an extraterrestrial explanation for this design in the sky? pic.twitter.com/8xrGp4PWZ1
— albert de monts (@albertdemonts) June 26, 2023
A few hours later, the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) solved the mystery. It was actually the first test of an experimental hypersonic glider, dropped from a sounding rocket fired from the Biscarosse test center.
(#VMAX ??) The DGA carried out yesterday, from Biscarosse, the first test firing of a sounding rocket carrying the VMax hyperspeed glider demonstrator.
Congratulations to all our teams who worked for this shoot and who are involved in the program on a daily basis! ⤵️
– Directorate General of Armaments (@DGA) June 27, 2023
A speed of more than 6000 km/h
The VMaX, for Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle, flew at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or more than 6,000 km/h, while maneuvering to thwart a potential adversary’s interception capabilities, leaving zigzag tracks in the sky.
“This first demonstrator included many on-board technological innovations. Its flight test, on a very demanding long-range trajectory, constituted an unprecedented technical challenge which prepares the future of our national hyperspeed roadmap”, confirms the Ministry of the Armed Forces. in a press release.
“Technical analyzes of the numerous data collected throughout the duration of the test are in progress to draw lessons for the continuation of the experimental flights”, he added.
Propelling France into the era of supersonic weapons
The VMaX project, for Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle, launched in January 2019, is carried out under the industrial project management of ArianeGroup, manufacturer of Ariane rockets. It aims to propel France into the era of hypersonic weapons.
“Many nations are equipping themselves with it, we have all the skills to achieve it: we couldn’t wait any longer,” pleaded Florence Parly, then Minister of the Armed Forces, announcing the project.
Three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, of which France is a member, are already engaged in this arms race with their own programs: the United States, China and Russia.
“A few seconds” for the interception
The increasing efficiency of anti-missile defense systems is indeed pushing the powers to develop ever faster weapons – the hypersonic threshold allows the missile to cross at least 100 kilometers per minute – and with unpredictable trajectories to thwart defenses.
France is already conducting studies on hypersonic propulsion as part of the modernization of its nuclear deterrent arsenal: the ASN4G missile (4th generation nuclear air-to-ground), intended to replace the ASMP (medium-range nuclear air-to-ground ), could therefore be hypervelocity.
In this field of hypersonic missiles, Russia already has Zircon and Kinjal, presented as “invincible” in 2018 by Vladimir Putin but several copies of which were shot down in Ukraine, according to Kiev.
The glider is first propelled by a rocket or a missile into the very high atmosphere, at an altitude of almost 100 kilometers, then released to be able to glide over several thousand kilometers following an unpredictable trajectory. Unlike a ballistic missile whose trajectory is predictable, with a hypersonic weapon “what is disturbing for defense is the combination of speed and maneuverability”, sums up an industrialist. For a flight of ten minutes, the defender has only “a few seconds to intercept”, according to him.