Is France about to fly its V-MAX hypersonic glider?


UPDATE 27-06-2023, 15:29 (UTC +3): The test took place on June 26, 2023. Here is our article about it:

Navigational Warnings (NAVWARNs) issued by France suggest that the V-MAX hypersonic glider may be about to make its first flight. 

Between June 26 and 30, 2023, a restricted maritime area was created, spanning 2,000 kilometers (about 1,080 nautical miles) west from the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA, the French procurement and technology agency) missile testing site in Biscarosse, western France, into the Bay of Biscay and the Celtic Sea. The zones are restricted due to “missile operations.” 

As the French portal Zone Militaire first pointed out, there are two likely platforms that may be tested.  

The first is a naval-launched cruise missile called the MdCN. The missile was developed by the European missile manufacturer MBDA to arm the multi-mission frigates (FREMM) and the Suffren class of nuclear submarines of the French Navy. Its operational range is 1,000 kilometers (540 nautical miles).  

But perhaps more interestingly, this test may be the maiden flight of a demonstrator for the Véhicule Manoeuvrant Expérimental (V-MAX, Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle) program. In 2019, France contracted the aerospace company ArianeGroup to manage the VMAX program, aimed at developing a hypersonic glider demonstrator.

An ambitious program

Hypersonic gliders use a boost-glide launch system: first, a rocket propels the weapon into space before the payload glides back into the atmosphere to its target at hypersonic speed. The non-ballistic nature of their maneuvers during atmospheric reentry makes their trajectory unpredictable. 

“These hypersonic gliders are capable of passing through the most sophisticated air defenses: they are missiles that can reach unprecedented speeds of 6,000 to 7,000 kilometers per hour, in other words, cover the distance between Dunkirk and Nice [across France – ed. note] in 12 minutes,” Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces at the time, explained.  

Since May 2021, the French defense ministry has been claiming that the VMAX demonstrator would complete its first flight “in the coming months.” This has not materialized yet. 

However, in a hearing on May 3, 2023, for the French Military Planning Law for 2024-2030, Charles-Henri du Ché, ArianeGroup’s military adviser said that the demonstrator would fly “very soon.”  

“We are therefore perfectly on time,” du Ché said. “This demonstrator will be followed by a more efficient demonstrator and going further in experimentation, V-Max 2, which could fly in 2024 or 2025.” 

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