PARIS - France has conducted a maiden test of a prototype hypersonic glider, the country's defence procurement agency said, as it seeks to develop new missile technology capable of evading the most sophisticated air defences. The agency said a sounding rocket carrying a VMAX hypersonic glider launched on Monday from the Biscarosse missile test site on the Bay of Biscay, southwestern France.

"Its flight test, on a very demanding long-range trajectory, represented an unprecedented technical challenge that will pave the way for the future of our national hypervelocity roadmap," the agency said in a statement.

It gave no details on the outcome of the test but said an analysis of data collected during the test was underway.

In 2019, France contracted aerospace company ArianeGroup to manage the VMAX program, aimed at developing a hypersonic glider demonstrator.

Hypersonic gliders — unpowered, manoeuvring vehicles flying at speeds greater than Mach 5 (6,000km/h) — have been under study by major nuclear powers for several years.

They typically use a rocket to propel the glider to a high altitude tens of kilometres above the earth before the glider and its payload descend back at hypersonic speed.

Hypersonic gliders are being designed to carry a nuclear or conventional warhead. Unlike ballistic missiles whose trajectories are fixed at launch, hypersonic gliders can change direction at high speed.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Richard Lough and Christina Fincher)