PARIS — The U.K. Ministry of Defence picked 90 companies and organizations from industry and academia to compete for a £1 billion (U.S. $1.26 billion) program to develop hypersonic missile capabilities.

Those selected will be eligible to bid for contracts within the eight-lot framework, with a maximum value of £1 billion over the next seven years, the ministry’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) acquisition organization said in a statement on Monday. The goal is to facilitate cooperation on cutting-edge technology and rapidly develop advanced hypersonic-missile capabilities for Britain.

“Hypersonics will be a landmark capability of the future and it is essential we keep pace with the developments of our adversaries,” Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge said in the statement.

The United States as well as France have tested hypersonic technologies, while China and Russia have reportedly deployed hypersonic missiles that could potentially deliver conventional or nuclear warheads. Traveling at more than five times the speed of sound, the speed and maneuverability of hypersonic missiles could challenge existing missile defenses, the U.K. government said in a July report.

The hypersonic framework is focused on speedy development of capability, with mechanisms to align procurement and development goals to prevent “traditional challenges that impede capability acquisition,” DE&S said. The scheme will be used to pick suppliers that will support research, development and testing of hypersonic technologies all the way to a field-grade capability.

In addition to established weapons makers and academic institutions, nearly half of the suppliers to the program will be small and medium-sized companies, most of them based in the U.K., according to DE&S. The framework will reopen to new suppliers every six to 12 months to ensure the defense ministry has access to new technologies and emerging market capabilities.

Separately, Norwegian missile maker Kongsberg said it teamed up with Germany’s Diehl Defence and MBDA Deutschland to develop a future supersonic strike missile with the name 3SM Tyrfing.

Kongsberg is leading the partnership to create a long-distance, maneuverable supersonic strike missile for Norway and Germany, the company said in a statement on Monday. The team will work with the countries’ defense forces to define and develop what Kongsberg called “the world’s most advanced long-range strike capability designed to meet future surface threats.”

Stand-off weapons are crucial for credible deterrence, MBDA Deutschland Managing Director Thomas Gottschild said in the statement, while Diehl Defence CEO Helmut Rauch said the companies will develop a “game changer” that none of them could develop on their own.

The European Union is helping fund two projects to develop an interceptor against hypersonic threats: Hydis2 coordinated by pan-European missile maker MBDA and Hydef led by Spain’s Sener Aeroespacial and including Germany’s Diehl Defence.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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