WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States government is years behind China in the pursuit of so-called hypersonic weapons that bob and weave through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound, Raytheon Technologies' chief executive said on Tuesday (Oct 26).
While the Pentagon has a number of hypersonic weapons programmes in development and the US understands the technology, China has "actually fielded hypersonic weapons", Raytheon CEO Gregory Hayes said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's Balance of Power With David Westin.
"We are at least several years behind," he said.
The emerging, ultra-fast weapon systems have sparked concerns because of their potential to destabilise relations between the US, China and Russia. They may also become a front in the mounting competition between Beijing and Washington as the world's two largest economies clash over trade, technology and humanitarian issues.
Raytheon is developing a hypersonic cruise missile with the US military.
Hypersonics capability is "the most destabilising threat to the homeland", Mr Hayes said. "The time to react is very, very short."
The CEO's comments come after reports that China conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer, including one of a so-called hypersonic glide vehicle.
Launched from a missile or rocket, the craft separates and zips towards a target while manoeuvring through the atmosphere, and Mr Hayes said such weapons can reach speeds of 22,000 miles (35,406km) per hour.
"We have to have automated systems to defend the homeland, and we are focused on that," he said in the interview.
Raytheon's Missiles and Defence unit in September successfully test-fired a hypersonic cruise missile that can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 as part of a development contract for the US Air Force and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defence Department's advanced technology development agency.
"We will have weapons to challenge the adversaries but most importantly I think our focus is how do we develop counter-hypersonics," Mr Hayes said. "That's where the challenge will be."