Australia and the United States will collaborate on air-launched hypersonic cruise missile prototypes that reach five times the speed of sound, faster than anything Australia has been involved in before.
The hypersonic weapons could be significantly lighter and smaller than regular air-launched cruise missiles and travel the distance between Melbourne and Sydney in around six or seven minutes.
Attached to existing aircraft like the Super Hornet, Growler, P-8 or F-35, hypersonic weapons could reach distances to project power across the region and substantially shift how Australia could respond to a threat.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds called the project a "game-changing capability" that enhances the ADF's self-reliance, and is built upon 15 years of research conducted in Australia and negotiations at the last AUSMIN forum.
"I am pleased to see this agreement come to fruition following my discussions with then Secretary Esper during my visit to the United States in July this year," she said.
"At AUSMIN, we acknowledge the unique role of our defence partnership to maintain our competitive edge, and affirm the value of bilateral collaboration on hypersonics. Investing in capabilities that deter actions against Australia also benefits our region, our allies and our security partners. We remain committed to peace and stability in the region, and an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific."
The prototype agreement will be known as the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE), and builds on earlier hypersonic missile trials from Australian and US collaborations such as HIFIRE.
The US Department of Defence's acting undersecretary for research and engineering, Mr Michael Kratsios said SCIFiRE was a true testament to the relationship between the US and Australia, saying: "This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the US and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational war-fighting capability."
Further development and testing will be conducted in Australia, although which Defence weapons range will be used has not yet been selected.
Industry will be invited to contribute to both additional development and manufacturing of the project. Defence is holding its first industry briefing this Friday, with priority for work given to small and medium enterprises instead of a prime Defence contracting business.