Russia and China Deploy Hypersonic Weapons and the US Spends Billions to Catch Up

The US is increasing hypersonic weapon investment in 2020 to $2.6 billion.

The UK has a $12 million contract with Rolls-Royce to develop high-Mach aircraft propulsion systems.

Russia has the Avangard and the 3M22 Tsirkon (aka Zircon)—and has reportedly fielded the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (“Dagger”), a maneuvering air-launched ballistic missile. The US believes the Avangard will not be operational until 2020.

Kinzhal has a top speed of mach 10.
Avangard has a top speed of mach 20.

China has successfully tested the DF-17, a medium-range ballistic missile specifically designed to launch HGVs. U.S. intelligence analysts think the DF-17 has a range of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 miles.

China has tested the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, which could be modified to carry a conventional or nuclear HGV (Hypersonic Glide Vehicle).

China has tested the DF-ZF HGV (aka WU-14) at least nine times since 2014. It has a range of about 1,200 miles and should be very maneuverable. It could be operational as early as 2020.

China’s Starry Sky-2 is a waverider that uses powered flight after launch and derives lift from its own shockwaves. CAAA claims the vehicle reached top speeds of Mach 6 and executed a series of in-flight maneuvers before landing. The Starry Sky-2 could be operational by 2025.

USD R&E Michael Griffin has stated that the United States will not have a defensive capability against hypersonic weapons until the mid to late 2020s.

42 thoughts on “Russia and China Deploy Hypersonic Weapons and the US Spends Billions to Catch Up”

  1. We haven’t had to invade a country by sea in a long while. I think cruise missiles are too expensive for softening up an army waiting for us to land ashore.

  2. During the ABM development we build the Sprint missile to intercept nuclear warheads. Our detection and tracking abilities are better now.

    Anything striking the hypersonic missile will cause it to lose its aerodynamic ability. It will most like start to tumble and be ripped apart by air pressure.

  3. With hypersonic all you need is shotgun pellets. Its velocity is its undoing. Hypersonics are expensive and they are loud in the sense that the plasma around them make them light up. Cruise missiles are a lot cheaper so we can afford more and they will have a better chance to reach their target. By the way you don’t have to obliterate everything to make live difficult for the enemy. Blow up a few dams, oil and gas production and refinement facilities, and some power plants especially the nuclear ones and things can get quite hairy. Precision removes the need for quantity.

  4. Sorry its mach 13.2 for the IIB. My comment was directed at you claim of low accuracy “is not accurate” is countered by, essentially, well that depends on your target. Which is completely valid response given its design target versus what it could be adapted for.

    Anyway, my main point is that Chinese and Russian “supersonic are nothing more than glorified ballistic missiles and rockets. Stuff we have been good at for years. Most US ICBMs have a CEP of less than 20m. A SM-3 has one of 3-5,

  5. The problem is, we already have multiple ways to deliver missiles to even countries like China and Russia. The inverse is not true. Even having hypersonic missiles did not add that much to our power projection, but helped the Chinese enormously. Now, at least China will have a much more effective way to strike the continental U.S. with their new variants of DF26 and DF41. Firing missiles deep inside China, gliding through Russia, and releasing their multiple glide vehicles in Canada, finally striking their target in the continental U.S. Before hypersonic, there was at least a chance that we can intercept, but now that seem increasingly unlikely. In the SCS and ECS, this increased their lethality, but did not fundamentally change the fact that they already have multiple ways to knock out our bases there.

  6. The Chinese do not have a cash problem and will have a significant arsenal in a decade. As for Russia, the realistic scenario is a Middle East conflict involving third parties. In this scenario, hypersonic missiles could be a game changer.

  7. I agree that today that is the case. 10 years down the road, that is a different story. They will upgrade and start producing their next gen missiles using hypersonic technology. Just making interception that much more difficult.

  8. So, basically, it comes down to my first statement: Does the US really need hyper-sonic missiles when they can park a nuclear submarine just outside your country? I guess not … or at least it isn’t a priority, yet.

  9. We’ve done quite a bit. The phrase/claim “We are behind in hypersonics”, is not “we are behind in hypersonic research”, it is “we are behind in fielding combat ready hypersonic platforms”. These are two very different things. If you sort of page through the history of hypersonic research in the United States here’s what you find: 3 or 4 different organizations developed a technology demonstrating prototype every few years from roughly the 80s to the early 00’s, never shared data with each other because of bureaucratic sloth, each program almost invariably encountered some kind of major technical hurdle, funding was either cut or an early demonstration objective was met, and a fieldable platform was never RFP’d. Government research and acquisition is pretty … incompetently operated. It’s not the case that you ask NASA to develop and test a hypersonic scramjet and they do and then a week later they start building you a missile profile based on it. It just doesn’t work that way. G-men at the Pentagon have a meeting every 3 weeks to address an action item that nobody wants to close until there’s a change of administration, all the priorities shift, everything backlogs for 6 months, and then it finally gets discussed again, nobody cares, the engineers have all moved on, and/or the technology used in the last demonstration is OBE, obsolesced, or you just have too many other higher priorities. That’s why we’ve never had a real vehicle built.

  10. I don’t know how that response is a response to what I said — I’m talking about the claim that the SM-3 Block IIA moves at Mach 15.

  11. I dispute the accuracy of this statement since we almost do not ever use coastal gunfire support anymore, even when it’s available. We just use cruise missiles.

  12. Sorry I was unclear about something – waverider is a design choice for using shocks to generate lift – a boost glide vehicle is a nose cone design that corresponds typically to a more variable and longer range flight profile choice, often (but not always) used by a waverider. The DF-17 carries a hypersonic glide vehicle. I should have used the phrase glide vehicle, not waverider. Just about every waverider is going to be a glide vehicle because you can’t use a plain old conical nose cone – re-entry is more or less statically ballistic that way – but by no means is every glide vehicle a waverider.

  13. I disagree with Scenario #1 because they’ll never have enough of them to make them strategically meaningful. You always have to assume — even with a new weapons platform designed to circumvent existing countermeasures — that you’ll have some % success rate just due to operational variables. Russia will never have thousands or even hundreds of hypersonic missiles. They simply don’t have the cash flow for that. For them to build a piece of their nuclear strike doctrine around what will ostensibly be in the low 10s or dozens of missiles would be pretty dangerous for them. My personal opinion is that this new arms race for Russia is little more than bait to get us to spend ourselves silly. And at the end of they day if they can break some piece of our air superiority and force re-alignment of our strategic plans, that’d beneficial too. They’re trying to keep us uncomfortable and shifting because they don’t have the money to just spend to parity, or even close.

  14. One of the reasons a GMD kill vehicle weighs so much and is going so fast is to completely mitigate the incoming missile’s momentum such that the warhead does not continue tumbling toward the target area and possibly detonate or simply fragment into pieces of nuclear warhead rain. It would not be so simple to fire a satellite based weapon at an anti-satellite missile moving at hypersonic mach number and accomplish the same task, because of all the momentum transfer problems firing weapons from satellites. Simple buckshot ( or some other unguided low speed projectile), while it would likely damage the missile, maybe even render the warhead inoperable, you have to mitigate a shitload of momentum to divert the missile reliably. Defeating an anti satellite missile from the satellite itself is not a trivial objective.

  15. There are two scenarios where these missiles will be used.

    1. Doomsday second nuclear strike against us in the U.S. mainland after we use nukes on them.
    2. They strike back against us after we initiated military action against them in the SCS.

    In the first scenario, all the satellites would be gone by that time.

    In the second scenario, they have line of sight against our satellites and can disable them by various means, up to and including a kinetic kill. What is more, the firepower we can bring to bear, from the various bases plus a few carrier battle groups, is already insignificant against a continental size country with a lot of missiles, bombers and a formidable defense. We simply do not have that many places to put them and hide them as Japan and South Korea are quite crowded and only a few places can be used as bases. Even slower missiles can overwhelm us by sheer numbers alone. Hypersonic just added one extra layer of difficulty. If, for every hypersonic missile, you need twenty to intercept with 90% confidence, the asymmetric in cost alone will kill us. 20 to 1 is generous at a time when we don’t even have our own hypersonic missiles. Think about how many arrows are needed to intercept one bullet, even if you knew the trajectory. For CBG, this is even a bigger problem as the number of ship born missiles are very limited. Each Burke carries about a hundred missiles.

  16. One word, Satellites. The plasma caused by the hyper velocity would be screaming: ‘Hello, hello, I am over here”. And buck shot anti-missile would shred it before can hit the target.

  17. My point was that it has been 50 years since the SR-71 started flying. Do you think, in that time, the US has done no hyper-sonic research and that the US is “behind” in said research? I don’t get to look into the US black programs but I would be willing to put down even money that there are a few hyper-sonic surprises in there.

  18. Big difference between trying to hit a mach 15 ballistic missile versus hitting a large ship traveling 20 knots or a ground based, static target.

  19. We’ve done lots of research, but until now have not decided to weaponize the tech. Until now, anyway. I really don’t consider this a game-winning weapon. Surely we already have eyes in LEO, and these things fly above the clouds. Our point defense systems are very good, and these weapons are still untried in combat. Hyper-velocity guided projectiles look to be good systems, but we need the larger caliber guns, with bleeding edge tracking systems, like the Zumwalt was intended to have. Even with the hobbled tracking system, and workaround HVP projectiles, it will be a good ABM gun. Just not nearly as good as intended.
    I wonder if we have improved much on the linear implosion projectile warhead designs?

  20. Just so you know, the DF-17 that the Chinese are fielding is not a scramjet, but a very fast rocket that is configured to move horizontally after the initial parabolic trajectory.

  21. Who said they are using waverider type as their warhead? I think the multiple warheads are maneuverable but without its own propulsion. they find their own targets with inertial guidance. They are programmed to have evasive maneuvers, but only with its own momentum.

  22. The SR-71 was not a hypersonic aircraft. Max published speed at the time was Mach 3, to date stories have come out about outrunning SAMs at Mach 3.3, let’s be generous and say the aircraft wouldn’t melt or fall apart at Mach 3.7. There is no static Mach number for hypersonic flow (it’s when the boundary layer and the forward shock begin to interact thermally and viscous drag skyrockets), but it’s roughly around Mach 5 or higher (rarely, rarely lower).

    You primarily need hypersonic missiles for guaranteeing air superiority in an era of extremely sophisticated sensory fusion capabilities, and to address the emerging regional desire to be able to deliver conventional and nuclear payloads at intermediate range in a ballistic missile defense environment.

  23. That’s not why a waverider skims along the top of the atmosphere (detectability). It does it because it presumably has an air breathing scramjet powerplant that requires some minimum density of ambient air to operate because that’s the only way to maintain high mach for an extended period, rockets burn too fast, you want something keeping you at mach 5 for like 20-30 minutes or longer, which a rocket just can’t do. It may also be using the air to act against control surfaces for maneuvers. Maneuvering outside the atmosphere doesn’t work so well because you need reaction thrusters in 6 DOF. Flying on the edge of the atmosphere is not “low” by radar standards. You’re still detectable extremely far away.

  24. Simply convert the current SM-3 system to be able to hit ground targets and create an air launched version. It flies at Mach 15.

  25. No it is not. It runs along the edge of the atmosphere, hidden behind the curvature of the earth until too late. Going at such high speed and maneuvering all the way, there is just not enough time. A hypersonic missile is much more difficult to deal with.

  26. advantage is definitely going towards the one with faster missiles. The old scudd that Saddam had, we could not be sure to take them out. The North Koreans fired a bunch of normal slow missiles. If we had the confidence that we can intercept them, we would have, and they won’t be able to wag their fingers at us after that. We didn’t because we don’t have confidence that we could. Now we are talking about a missile that can do Mach 5 and beyond, maybe as high as Mach 20, maneuvering all the way. It runs along the edge of the atmosphere so you can’t detect it until it is within a few hundred KM. There is just no defending a thing like that.

  27. I agree completely…the US government could show off a orbital bomber or something…but why, all you would do is make your enemy aware of it, and then try to copy it and make their own. It’s best to play dumb and say were working on our own hyper-sonic missiles.

  28. The Poles and Czecs should have done the same in the 1930s, same with the various Chines nations. Finland and the Baltic states also must have been doing things “wrong” that antagonized the Soviets to attack them. Kuwait must have been bullying Iraq in the early 90s… nations just need to learn to sing along together.

  29. You think you’re going to find accurately reported public-facing information about range of various missiles in two of the world superpowers? You can work on one of these missile programs and if you don’t have NTK, you won’t necessarily know the real range.

  30. By that argument just about every country in the world should reflect on that, since everyone has a military, and 20-40 of the largest spenders have enough of a military to make it clear that they’re addressing specific risks and threats. This doesn’t apply just the US, if it applies at all, which it doesn’t, because it’s stupid, but I used a thought experiment to show why it is used poorly even if it does.

  31. rather than competing in an arms race, why not reflect on what US is doing wrong that makes them worried about being attacked?

  32. Sometimes the old ways were the best way. If you wanted to obliterate a coastal defense then a battle ship lobbing car size shells at a high rate would be the way to go. Nothing we have today would be as effective. Precision is good if you want to destroy a few targets. Throw weight is more important when you want to destroy a mobile force in a region.

  33. Hypersonic missile would be easy to detect by radar. A subsonic cruise missile with stealth flying at tree cover height would be harder to detect and also cheaper to produce.

  34. China & Russia are 40 years behind the USA can Russia or China make speeds of 186,000 per minute no so go blow all that smoke up someone else ‘s ass

  35. Does the US really need hyper-sonic missiles when they can park a nuclear submarine just outside your country? Considering that the SR-71 was built in the 60s {before large scale computing} do your really think the the US is “behind” in hyper-sonic technology? Really?

  36. Miniaturise the projectiles and up the rate of fire though, and you’ve got a great point-defence weapon. If your bullets are hypersonic (and probably necessarily self-destructing), you could shoot an HGV down.

  37. We appear to be behind in missilery, too. In every weight class I can find, from AAAM to ICM, Chinese missile outrange ours. I don’t know about Russian stuff, however.

  38. I didn’t realize we were very behind in that particular sector of defense.

    Can’t we just use that extraterrestrial tech out at S4 to make some gravity force fields? ^_~

    Seriously, though, it’s definitely important to be able to have some sort of defense against such a fast ordnance delivery vehicle. Even if it costs some money, it may he worth the cash. Then again, we’re making progress on rail gun tech where others haven’t (right?).

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