The White House ordered the Pentagon delay a long-planned U.S. hypersonic missile test scheduled to take place around the same time President Joe Biden was set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, according to sources familiar with the decision who spoke with Politico on Thursday.
According to three people familiar with the decision, including a defense official and a senior congressional aide, a top White House staffer contacted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s office to request the hypersonic missile test be postponed. Officials worried the U.S. hypersonic missile launch could have sent the wrong message or even thrown off the meeting between Biden and Putin altogether.
The defense official claimed the Russians avoided similarly provocative behavior ahead of the meeting between the two leaders. The defense official said, “This is not unusual at all for the sake of table-setting.”
While the official claimed Russia held off on making provocative actions, Russia did deploy warships off the coast of Hawaii just before the summit, the 19FortyFive reported. The Russian naval presence prompted the U.S. to deploy F-22 fighters a carrier already near California to monitor the situation.
Though the U.S. avoided the weapons test ahead of the June 16 meeting, a month after the Biden-Putin summit the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it had conducted a ship-borne hypersonic missile launch. The Russian missile, 3M22 Zircon (Tsirkon), reportedly reached up to seven times the speed of sound (Mach 7), about 5,370 miles per hour.
Politico’s sources described the delayed weapons test on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. A White House spokesperson has denied the account shared by the unnamed sources as “not accurate” and the Pentagon declined to comment on the matter altogether.
The delayed U.S. hypersonic missile test comes as both Russia and China have been making advances in their hypersonic missile technology.
In addition to Russia’s high-profile Zircon missile tests, China completed an August hypersonic missile test that circled the globe, demonstrating the capacity to launch over the South Pole and circumvent the large portion of U.S. missile defenses that are built up in the northern hemisphere and focused against a potential attack from the North Pole route.
Space News reported that at a Defense Writers Group event on Thursday, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said, “What you need to be worried about is that in the last five years, or maybe longer, the United States has done nine hypersonic missile tests, and in the same time the Chinese have done hundreds.”
Hyten also said “We have to worry about Russia in the near term. They continue to experiment with hypersonics but not nearly at the pace of China, not anywhere close to the pace of China.”