They fly at speeds of a mile a second or faster and maneuver in ways that make them extra difficult to detect and destroy in flight. President Donald Trump calls them “super-duper” missiles though they’re better known as hypersonic weapons. And they are at the heart of Trump administration worries about China and Russia. For decades the United States has searched for ways to get ultra-fast flight right. But it has done so in fits and starts. Now, with China and Russia arguably ahead in this chase, the Trump administration is pouring billions of dollars a year into hypersonic offense and defense. The Pentagon makes no bones about their purpose. “Our ultimate goal is, simply, we want to dominate future battlefields,” Mark Lewis, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for modernization, told reporters in March. Critics argue that hypersonic weapons would add little to the United States’ ability to deter war. Some think they could ignite a new, destabilizing arms race. A look at hypersonic weapons: WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT HYPERSONIC? Two things make these weapons special: speed and maneuverability. Speed brings surprise, and maneuverability creates elusiveness. Together, those qualities could mean trouble for missile defenses. By generally agreed definition, a hypersonic weapon is one that flies at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. Most American missiles, such as those launched from aircraft to hit other aircraft or ground targets, travel between Mach 1 and Mach 5. Trump occasionally mentions his interest in hypersonic weapons, sometimes without using the term. In February he told governors visiting the White House: “We have the super-fast missiles — tremendous number of the super-fast. We call them ‘super-fast,’ where they’re four, five, six and even seven times faster than an ordinary missile. We need that because, again, Russia has some.” And last Friday, Trump told reporters, “We have no choice, we have to do it, with the adversaries we have out there,” mentioning China and Russia. He added, “I call it the super-duper missile.” He said he “heard” it travels 17 times faster than any other U.S. missile. “It just got the go-ahead,” he added, although the Pentagon would not comment on that. HOW THEY WORK The Pentagon is pursuing two main types of hypersonic weapons. One, called a hypersonic glide vehicle, is launched from a rocket. It then glides to a target, maneuvering at high speed to evade interception. The other is sometimes referred to as a hypersonic cruise missile. Capable of being launched from a fighter jet or bomber, it would be powered by a supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, enabling the missile to fly and maneuver at lower altitudes. On March 19, the Pentagon flight-tested a hypersonic glide vehicle at its Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. It deemed the test a success and “a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early- to mid-2020s.” Unlike Russia, the United States says it is not developing hypersonic weapons for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, a U.S. hypersonic weapon will need to be more accurate, posing additional technical challenges. As recently as 2017, the Pentagon was spending about $800 million on hypersonic weapon programs. That nearly doubled the following year, then rose to $2.4 billion […]
The post Quest For ‘Super-Duper’ Missiles Pits US Against Key Rivals appeared first on The Yeshiva World.