This “Flaw” Is Threatening Hypersonic Missiles
(RightWing.org) – Over the last several years, Americans have heard much about hypersonic missiles, and to many, the idea of them sounds horrifying. China and Russia have rushed to create these new missile systems, and the glamor around them is intriguing. Still, there are many questions about whether or not they are gamechanger in the art of war.
To better understand if these weapon systems are a gamechanger or not, one should understand what they are and how they works. In reality, hypersonic missiles have been around since the 1960s; they just weren’t called by that name. If that’s true, let’s dive into the pros and cons of modern hypersonic missiles and contrast them with their rocket cousins.
Hypersonic Missiles are Not New — But New Ones Have New Capabilities
Hypersonic is defined as a vehicle that can reach speeds faster than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5. That equates to 3,838 miles per hour. In the 1970s and beyond, the United States began building ballistic missiles that met the defined criteria. The nuclear-capable Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) travels faster than Mach 23. Currently, the US has none of the newer-style hypersonics in its arsenal. Russia and China obviously do.
That brings up a question: If China and Russia have hypersonic missiles in their military inventories, but the US doesn’t yet, is there a direct threat to the United States? And, is the US and its two biggest adversaries now in an arms race to develop the fastest and most potent hypersonic missiles in the world?
The answer is yes and no. Experts say the US is taking a different tact than Russia and China regarding hypersonic missiles. Instead of trying to outdo the two countries, the US military is focusing on new and advanced capabilities. Some say it’s not really an arms race, but more of a race to see who will make it to the starting line first.
Hypersonic Missiles Not Really A Gamechanger, At Least Not Yet
An aerospace engineer shared the distinguishing difference between a traditional ICBM and a hypersonic missile. First, ICBMs are large rockets that fly high near the edge of the earth’s atmosphere in more of a cone shape. Modern hypersonic missiles fly at much slower speeds, but they also fly at much lower altitudes. Second, hypersonic missiles can maneuver, unlike an ICBM which flies on a set trajectory. So, the small size, lower speed, low altitude, and high maneuverability make them very appealing to some war planners.
Defending against a hypersonic missile can be a challenge, but not for the reason you might think. The challenge decision-makers have is whether or not it’s carrying a nuclear tip. Most hypersonic missiles are likely to be used to sink aircraft carriers and hit strategic targets quickly. So, like any form of warfare, it’s more about deterrence through perceptions and mind games than reality.
The real problem comes down to cost. Each hypersonic missile could cost as much as $106 million with the least expensive one expected to cost around $40 million. The biggest argument against hypersonic missiles is that there isn’t anything they can do that cheaper missiles can’t do.
What about missile defense? Many experts say that Russia and China are over-touting their hypersonic missiles for perception and mental warfare. The reality is that Russia has 4,477 nuclear warheads and over 15,000 ballistic missiles and planes. If Russia launched only half of its nuclear capabilities at America, the US defense system wouldn’t be able to handle it, would become overwhelmed, and the military would be useless to stop most of them.
So, are hypersonic missiles really a gamechanger?
For now, not really. Still, warfare is constantly changing and emerging with new technology. Who knows, one day there may be a need for them.
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