The U.S. is falling behind strategic rivals in the race to develop advanced hypersonic weapons, a new Air Force study reveals.
The Air Force Studies Board of the National Academies of Science reports that Russian and Chinese hypersonic missile advancements expand the power gap and pose a threat to the U.S.
“The United States may be facing a threat from a new class of weapons that will effectively combine speed, maneuverability, and altitude in ways that could challenge this nation’s tenets of global vigilance, reach, and power,” Chairman of the Air Force Studies Board Mark J. Lewis asserts.
“The People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation are already flight-testing high-speed maneuvering weapons (HSMWs) that may endanger both forward-deployed U.S. forces and even the continental United States itself,” a summary of the report explains.
“These weapons appear to operate in regimes of speed and altitude, with maneuverability that could frustrate existing missile defense constructs and weapon capabilities.”
Hypersonic missiles can travel at five times the speed of sound, maneuver for deceptive and defensive purposes, and operate inside and outside the atmosphere, beyond the range of conventional defenses.
Both Russia and China tested hypersonic weapons in April, reports the Washington Free Beacon.
Hypersonic missiles can be used in high-speed precision strikes against military bases and naval ships.
China is considering applying its DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, previously known as the WU-14, to its medium and long-range missiles, as well as its anti-ship ballistic missiles.
Compared to the “relatively leisurely pace” of the U.S., Russia and China are researching and developing hypersonic weapons at a “feverish” pace.
“The United States has an established defense architecture for ballistic missiles,” but “there is no such architecture for high-speed maneuvering weapon (HSMW) defense,” the report warns.
Hypersonic weapons operate “in the seams” of traditional U.S. defense systems.
“Put another way, while operational doctrine and command structures adequately address traditional atmospheric air attack or exoatmospheric ballistic missile attack, existing doctrine and organizational structure may not be adequate to address the cross-domain threat posed by HSMWs,” the Air Force report warns.
“HSMWs may impede operations, global vigilance, maintenance, and supporting logistics. At a national strategic level, HSMWs could hold at risk the fundamental U.S. construct of global reach and presence,” the report concluded.
Lewis argues that the only counter to hypersonic weapons, as was true with nuclear weapons during the Cold War, is hypersonic weapons.
The new Air Force study is reportedly the first U.S. military report to sounds the alarms over the hypersonic weapons arms race.
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