The Global Hypersonic Arms Race Has Just Started

Russian had another successful hypersonic glide weapon test. Putin says the weapon is impossible to intercept. Currently, no military power has the means to intercept the mach 5+ hypersonic weapons being deployed by Russia and China.

Claims of Abilities to Intercept ICBMs are Mostly Lies

The fact that Hypersonic missiles cannot be intercepted does not change the military balance. ICBMs have really been interceptable since they were invented. There are some interceptor missiles but they have not been used to engage ICBMs except in controlled test situations.

The Israeli Iron Dome’s effective missile defense against short-range rockets within the atmosphere has essentially no relevance to midcourse defenses against longer-range missiles.

The U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system began production in 2008. It is a short to intermediate range ballistic missile interceptor. THAAD cannot hit midcourse ICBMs, which can reach terminal phase speeds of mach 8 or greater. It can engage at a terminal phase. This means just as an ICBM is approaching a target then a THAAD interceptor can reach Mach 8 and intercept it.

There have not been many “successful” tests of interception.

An ICBM that could be intercepted cannot have counter-measures. It is trivially easy to add balloons to confuse targeting. It is also easy to add some small thrusters to make the intercept more difficult.

There are very few interceptor locations and very few anti-ICBM missiles. Russia has some around Moscow. The US has a facility in Alaska.

The ICBM interceptor a bullet moving at four times the speed of regular bullet that is trying to hit a bullet moving at four times the speed of a regular bullet.

The Hypersonic arms race has just started. China and Russia are just deploying a few hypersonic weapons as the warheads of air to air missiles and ICBMs.

US Will Spend Many Billions to Catch Up With Hypersonic Weapons

The US has researched hypersonic missiles and weapons for decades but the military and the companies did not make

Hypersonic weapons are to US weapons development priorities as locations are to real estate. Location is everything in real estate and currently hypersonic weapons are everything for weapons development. The Pentagon’s 2019 budget called for increased funding for a key hypersonics program from $201 million in 2018 to $278 million in 2019, with close to $2 billion allocated to the program.

Loren Thompson, a prominent defense analyst who works with Lockheed Martin and Boeing, said the hypersonic market should be worth “many billions of dollars” in the long run.

38 thoughts on “The Global Hypersonic Arms Race Has Just Started”

  1. It’s very difficult, but we’ll crack it. Russia’s bloviating clearly is no different than the USSR was.

    U.S. already hat three hypersonic weapon systems. Electro Magnetic Rail Gun, the Waverunner (glider) and a missile, tested as working, not yet deployed.

  2. This is not a factual statement. Neither Russia nor China has a hypersonic air breathing missile, that is – a missile that can maintain hypersonic flight for some substantial period of time. And as well neither has a hypersonic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload (in part, related to the first reason). Thirdly, neither Russia nor China has any plans – short or long term – to have any appreciable number of hypersonic missiles such that it actually changes the strategic balance. A whole lot of fielded, long range, hypersonic air or sea launched nuclear capable air breathing missiles is what it would take to “break” protection from nuclear attack. That’s a long, long, long way off.

  3. That was a bit different – that was loading a Trident missile with a conventional warhead. The scary aspect wasn’t its velocity, it was its radar cross section identifying it as a Trident. An air to ground hypersonic cruise missile won’t look like a Trident on radar.

  4. It’s not going to be hypersonic at point of impact. It’s going to burn out its hypersonic engine/fuel/etc in mid course, for a couple reasons. Hypersonic flight at sealevel is still too hot for materials. Air is too dense. Also the real advantage of hypersonic is closing the envelope with target too fast for ABM to react, and/or evading ABM on approach. It will slow down to supersonic by the time it’s terminal.

  5. This is not a true statement. Directed energy is not mentioned because it’s decades off. Power generation, portability, diffraction, targeting. Directed energy ABM is where missile ABM was in 1945.

  6. I do agree that as he said, the devil is in the details. You won’t engage one hypersonic missile with 1 supersonic interceptor, so where/when the engagement window occurs, where/when the hypersonic missile burns out in atmospheric and goes supersonic, will all be key to whether you can intercept it. You’d want to fire a salvo of supersonic interceptors in quick succession. Also, SM-3 IIA and IIB are probably high supersonic to mid-hypersonic for a certain window. The IIa has a whole new 1st stage for boost. Assume it has Mach 8+ top end, just depends on where/when in the flight path of the threat.

  7. This article is so poorly poorly written and counterfactual.

    “The US has a facility in Alaska” – also Vandenberg.

    “An ICBM that could be intercepted cannot have counter-measures. ” – totally false. Details of US ABM testing is classified. You don’t actually have any idea what you’re talking about.

    The challenge ahead for ABM is turn rate, loitering, and hitting a projectile that can maintain mach 5+ non exoatmospheric. You’re talking as if it’s novel to hit a mach 5+ projectile that has a non-ballistic trajectory (it isn’t), or to distinguish authentic targets from dummies (it isn’t). You’re trying to talk about subjects, the meat of which, is class, and it’s hilarious how off you are.

  8. Launching ICBMS with Nukes or Hypersonics is going to get some “attention”. The US wanted this tech back in 2004 and cooler heads though otherwise, now Russia and China are trying to do what the US did almost 20 years ago? What do they expect the US response will be? In November or 2017 a US Submarine tested a weapon, and they are now deployed on the new Block III Virginia class boats-and it was referred to as a “secret weapon” this past summer at a commissioning of an SSN in Florida. B-52’s with 24?–Russia has to only look in the mirror.

  9. Till now mostly lies to increase pressures on opponents. just race has started ultimately
    it will increase until the destruction of human kind.

  10. The difference is during in-atmosphere terminal guidance. If theres only an in-atmosphere supersonic interceptor, hypersonic glide with only a few hundred meters of cross range will likely evade the lethality radius of the interceptor.

    Exo-atmospheric, nothing changes, so THAAD will be just a good (or bad) as it is currently.

  11. I believe that we already have, or are deep into development of, ‘black’ weapon systems, which are still unknown-unknowns to our predicted adversaries. Such as rocket mounted laser interceptors. The trick is keeping all of this R&D secret for a useful period of time.

  12. Nothing (yet) can stop a bunch of incoming ICBM’s, brute force style. Hypersonics is for hitting specific targets that the enemy can’t defend otherwise, if they don’t have massive countermeasure capability, e.g., Russia hitting a small country, Israel cratering an Iranian facility, US flattening about a dozen Chinese refineries etc. It really isn’t meant for old Soviet/Red China style conflagrations.

  13. You get less than a 20×20 km patch of ocean to search with hypersonics, because the time for your carrier group to deviate from the observed course is smaller.

    The hypersonic system has plenty of time to paint its target, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s detected doing so, because it’s so hard to shoot down.

    And you don’t really need a big warhead. Most of your destructive effects are from kinetic energy. Hypersonics have plenty of that.

  14. 4, We have better weapons. Of course we do. We always have the ability to hit any country anywhere in the world, given our military bases around the world and our high tech weaponry. The issue at hand is that now, they have the ability to hit back and the ability to hit back in a way that we can’t intercept. That is the change in the status quo.

    5, Cutting off oil import from Russia. We just lost our war with Syria. Given that the Europeans are still dependent on Russia for oil/gas. How are we going to do that?

    6, Arms Race, on PPP basis, the Chinese are already bigger than us. Since they can produce just about everything and only buys the raw material, this is pretty close to the approximation of their national power. Since they are much lower than us on a per capita basis, they will most likely outgrow us in the future. Their government owns many matured industries, which gives them significantly more resources to do things than ours. their military spending is only 2% of their GDP while ours are at 3.5%. Even with this much lower nominal spending, they are already producing more naval ships per year then us. How do we plan to win this thing?

  15. Let me address some of the points by the other commentators,

    1, Lasers, today, lasers are basically point defense weapons with huge power requirements. As such, it is not practical to deploy in space (heat dissipation) and limited. Its range is highly dependent on how high the target is. A cruise missile 10 meter off the tree tops significantly reduce its range and a concerted attack with cruise missiles will take out the power supplies that feed it. Also in a cloudy day its effectiveness degrades significantly. Finally, like any system, it can still only hit so many targets at once, larger numbers can overwhelm it.

    2, Cutting off trade to disrupt China/Russia. Cutting off trade will definitely have an impact on them, but very far from a fatal blow. Trade was far more important to the Chinese a couple of decades ago, when they were learning to do things the new way by allowing the outsiders to come in to teach them how a modern economy works. Now that they have learned that, and trade with U.S. being a small total fraction of trade, and trade being a reducing fraction of their economy, they will adjust, even to the worst outcomes.

    3, weaponizing space, we have the technology to do that today, but do not have the money to create a robust enough system. A nuclear bomb detonating fifty miles away from the space station will blow it away. Things that live in space today are very fragile and easy to kill. Heat dissipation issue prevents large power generation units.

  16. So, its best to use one of these weapons when you know where the Aircraft Carrier is … like when it’s in port. Then all you need is GPS coordinates. Good luck adversaries!

  17. It really is comical how “slow” hypersonic weapons (or basically anything) is relative to the speed of light.

  18. Targeting a naval asset at sea, however, is not a trivial exercise. First you need to know about where the asset is which is easy enough with modern surveillance assets. However, the highest degree of certainty you’ll get is a 20x20km patch of ocean and an approximate heading. Beyond that, you’ll need to “paint” the target…. which, in a time of war, will be dangerous for said asset. Integrating guidance systems into a hypersonic vehicle starts to trade off either weapon size or warhead size. Also, you won’t be able to hide the thermal signature of a hypersonic weapon… especially a large one. It’s far from a “silver bullet”. I could see it as an effective area-denial weapon for something like the South China Sea but, beyond such a limited scope, I don’t see the advantage over a weapon that flys low, slow, and stealthily… likely with a larger warhead for a given missile size.

  19. The only viable role for surface ships these days is to menace the thirld world folks.
    Lasers are the easiest weapons to defend against.

  20. The prospect of the Russians and Chinese developing these hyper-sonic weapons is terrifying until you put it in perspective. As in 1992 with the fall of the USSR, huge arms races are all about economics. Yes, they are producing terrifying weapons, but we will produce if more terrifying weapons; and ours will be better; more effective; devastating. And we’ll out produce both Russia and China, and if this ‘Cold War’ worsens, we’ll divest in both economies and their economic systems will collapse as they are based on doing business with us. It might be inconvenient for us to bring our factories back from China and divert our abundant energy to Europe so Russia loses that huge market, but it will merely be an inconvenience – and very doable…

  21. Additionally carriers are kind of obsolete as battleships were during WWII.

    So, still considered very important and maintained as capital ships for another 50 years after that then?

  22. Let’s get some VERY VERY powerful laser weapons developed. Add to that quantum computers for guidance and no physical weapon that can currently be produced will survive, no matter the speed..

  23. They’ll produce them. We’ll make the better. They’ll go broke trying to keep up with us. We’ll divest in their economies. They will collapse economically as their economies are dependent on our. Just like 1992…

  24. I agree, carriers don’t mean as much as the used to. The Ford class does have an abundance of power, I’m sure a future upgrade will be lasers for defense. But that’s likely a decade away.

  25. What I am thinking even at these hyper speeds
    is cross range is critical. If the intercept solution can be made
    coming up the incoming missile’s downward path
    the intercept calcs are much less critical and intercept
    more likely.
    If you are on the aircraft carrier target this is a given.
    You will be shooting up the approach path.
    Thadd may be in a similar situation.
    Iron Dome or Patriot not so much.
    Devil is in the details.

  26. I think you’re missing the point of the situation – there is no more protection (even ‘semi’ as the THAAD was) against nuclear attack for US and its allies. Any future large scale conflict would be a mutual annihilation.

    Additionally carriers are kind of obsolete as battleships were during WWII.

  27. The answer is to pursue a policy of mutually assured destruction. This transfers the theatre of battle to one involving a contest of comparative economic power. And that is why the TPP is so important as it forces China to submit to the rule of law in order to assuage the concerns of its neighbours; otherwise, it could be ostracized by the world community and suffer economically.

  28. I don’t see these as strategic weapons at all. They’re area-denial weapons, and that ought to worry the US quite a bit. Note that the recent test was of a naval variant.

    As US bases on foreign soil are drawn down, we depend more and more on the Navy to project power, and a carrier battle group is pretty much a sitting duck against a hypersonic glide attack. Imagine NATO trying to defend an invasion of the Baltics without the ability to operate in the Baltic Sea or Gulf of Finland. Imagine trying to defend Taiwan or the Philippines without access to the South China Sea.

  29. Project Thor is better for hitting targets on the surface. Ortillary = orbital artillary.

    Taking out military bases and naval ships, specifically. Then power, sewage, railway & freeway junctions/bridges, dam, ports and fuel depot facilities. Just hitting the latter two types of targets on China’s coast — the shipping and oil terminal ports — would end China, Inc. for several years.

    Basically, if you have enough positioned in orbit above, say China, you can put the entire county back into the stone age in 15 minutes w/o firing a single nuke or an EMP (which is basically a big nuke anyway).

  30. ICBMs cannot be intercepted by likewise kinetic projectiles (rocket or ‘bullet’). They can be hit by beam weapons, tho. Speed of light trumps speed of bullets.

    Beam weapons isn’t something Brian chose to mention in this article, tho.

  31. Let’s see how well the Russians and Chinese can make them. Then, we’ll put our people on it and see what they can to.

    BTW: now that we’ve ended the madness of trusting foreign nationals to work in our weapons labs, we’ll maintain out national secrets – and they’ll be nothing for them to steal and copy…

    We will then produce them better, and out produce them 10 : 1 – while divesting from their frail economies; causing their collapse…


  32. What has got to freak Russia and China out is that the US might leapfrog and go straight to “Rods from God” technology. The tech exists to put them in orbit (SpaceX) and the rods are just metal guided missles. It sounds custom designed for a DOD contractor.

    1. The possibility that the US can intercept ICBMs with some reliability is game changing. After all that is why China and Russia developed new weapons.
    2. China and Russia having hypersonic weapons doesn’t really change the overall balance of power. If anything it is an attempt to move the world back to the “default state” of mutually assured destruction.
    3. The US will develop hypersonic weapons but doesn’t seem to need them in the same way as China and Russia. In case of total war we would just launch ICBMs which cannot be intercepted.

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