Even two years ago, hypersonic weapons were barely an item of discussion among the US national security establishment. Today these weapons are all the rage. What accounts for that sudden emergence of US interest in this category of weapons, which has spurred research and development on several different weapon systems that are to enter service at some point in the upcoming decade? And what are the implications of their eventual likely entry into service?
The triggering reason is most likely the failure of US, French, and British stand-off weapons used against Syria, specifically against targets covered by modern air defenses. Russian and even Soviet-era surface-to-air gun and missile systems racked up an impressive tally of successful interceptions of Tomahawk cruise missiles that still represent the most important component of the US stand-off weapon arsenal. Even the supposedly stealthy cruise missiles like France’s SCALP-EG, Great Britain’s Storm Shadow, and the US JASSM-ER proved to have low survivability against modern defenses. Israel’s equivalent munitions were not an exception to that rule, as they too had to rely on saturation attacks or, more likely, striking targets that were outside the integrated air defense bubble. Compounding the problem was the absence of sub-strategic ballistic missiles, with the exception of the short-ranged US Army TACMS which, while a formidable weapon, is too slow to evade interception by tactical anti-ballistic systems.
Nor were “hard kill” defenses the only weapons that proved effective against the array of NATO’s air- and sea-launched cruise missiles. Though hard data is difficult to come by, there is evidence suggesting “soft kill” electronic warfare measures were quite effective at countering a wide variety of stand-off munitions as well.
Collectively, these experiences have shaken US and NATO confidence in their chosen technological approach that emphasized stealth for every aerial vehicle in their arsenals, including manned and unmanned platforms as well as missiles. Yet even though stealthy cruise missiles such as the JASSM and its anti-ship version, the LRASM, might be successful at avoiding targeting by long-range radar-guided weapons, the fact that they are jet-powered means they are detectable by infrared imaging sensors at closer ranges. The remarkable information campaign waged by NATO countries against the Pantsir-S short-range air defense system is a reflection of its effectiveness as a missile, bomb, and drone-killer.
Whereas the US military establishment embraced stealth as a “silver bullet” technological solution to all manner of tactical and even strategic problems, Russia’s approach was more measured. While the studies that have led to this conclusion probably will remain classified for a long period of time, the Russian military came to the reasonable conclusion that since avoiding detection cannot be guaranteed, the best way to deal with missile defenses is to decrease exposure time by making the missiles ever-faster. This trend was already evident during the Cold War, when NATO settled for subsonic anti-ship missiles such as the Exocet, Harpoon, Penguin, Otomat, and ultimately the Tomahawk which had both anti-ship and land-attack applications, which relied on stealth of sorts in the form of flying at extremely low altitudes. USSR, on the other hand, already by the late 1960s was making a major investment in highly supersonic air-, surface- and submarine-launched missiles. By 1980s, Soviet weapons were increasingly employing air-breathing ramjet propulsion which pushed their speeds ever-closer to the hypersonic realm. NATO’s use of ramjet propulsion during that time was limited to surface-to-air missiles such as the British Sea Dart and US Talos, while its cruise missiles were almost exclusively jet-powered.
Russia’s evolutionary development of these technologies has led both to systems already in service, such as the Oniks and Kalibr cruise missiles (with an anti-ship variant of the latter employing a highly supersonic terminal stage). These are be soon joined by the Tsirkon, a genuinely hypersonic cruise missile, the Avangard ICBM maneuvering re-entry vehicle and the Kinzhal aeroballistic missile derived from the Iskander INF-threshold 500km range ballistic missile.
US interest in conventional hypervelocity strike weapons is not exactly new. The George W. Bush administration initiated the Prompt Global Strike program which made its first appearance in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, shortly before the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Nevertheless, in the post-9/11 wars the US has shifted attention and budgets away from strategic weapons and towards counterinsurgency, therefore while the interest in these weapons was never abandoned, it was nowhere near the top of US defense priorities. Not even the rapid deterioration of Russia-NATO relations in 2014 and later years led to visibly greater interest in these weapons. The Trump Administration’s two rounds of cruise missile strikes against Syria, however, appear to have had that effect. As a result, every service of the US military is interested in the development of at least one weapon system that would provide with hypervelocity strike capabilities. With the exception of Avangard, every Russian system mentioned has a similar US system under some stage of development.
The Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) is quite literally the US equivalent of the Iskander, possessed of similar range and capabilities. There are two versions of the weapon being developed, one by Lockheed-Martin which conducted the first test launch in 2019, and another by Raytheon which appears to be behind schedule. While the weapon is intended to be used from the same HIMARS launchers that Army TACMS uses, the missile itself has considerably greater range of just under 500km, though it is widely assumed it is going to be extended to 700km. The original official 500km range requirement was placed when the INF Treaty was still in force, but since that treaty’s demise was already being planned by the White House, it is rather likely the two competitors were informed that actual desired range was greater than the specified one.
The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) picks up where the PrSM leaves of, and moreover is one of the missile designs using the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) developed by Sandia National Laborary. C-HGB is an Avangard-like though smaller maneuvering hypersonic vehicle that has been tested at speeds of up to Mach 8 and ranges in excess of 6,000km as part of the Army Hypersonic Weapon program that has since been folded into this and other projects. Operational LRHW range will depend on the kinematics of the carrier. However, since the START I treaty defines an ICBM as a missile with a range exceeding 5,500km, if LRHW has performance comparable to the AHW, it would be a de-facto road-mobile ICBM. While it is planned as a delivery vehicle for conventional payloads, nothing prevents it from carrying nuclear warheads. LRHW and other long-range surface-launched hypersonic weapons may be the reason the United States has shown no interest in extending New START treaty which uses the same definitions and which is set to expire in 2021. The US Army hopes to have the first LRHW battery in service in 2023, though that date is likely to slip, if only because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Intermediate Range Conventional Prompt Global Strike (IRCPS) is the US Navy’s equivalent of the LRHW in the sense that it uses C-HGB. However, unlike the missiles mentioned earlier, it does not appear to have a custom-designed launch vehicle but will instead use repurposed Trident SLBMs, most likely the intermediate-range Trident I. One point which speaks in favor of Trident I is that its smaller size makes it compatible with the Virginia Block III attack submarines “Virginia Payload Tubes” which normally carry Tomahawk SLCM packs but which are large enough to accept a single Trident I-based IRCPS. So here too we see a deliberate blurring of the line separating strategic and non-strategic weapons. Since the C-HGB can be used as a nuclear delivery vehicle, it would transform the US Navy’s future attack submarines with suitable launch tubes into ballistic missile submarines.
Unlike LRHW and IRCPS, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) does not use the C-HGB. That weapon was supposed to be the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) which is still advertised on the Lockheed-Martin web site, alongside ARRW, IRCPS, and LRHW, but which was rejected in favor of ARRW, a smaller vehicle with a different, smaller glide body. The USAF chose ARRW over HCSW because the smaller size would enable B-52s and B-1s to carry larger numbers of these missiles, and even permit F-15 fighters to act as carriers.
Since all of these weapons have ranges bordering or possibly even exceeding the strategic armaments’ range threshold of 5,500km and moreover could have nuclear variants, they should properly be termed strategic weapons. With the exception of the PrSM, their capabilities go well beyond the need to launch battlefield strikes or to target key rear-area facilities. These missiles’ capabilities in some respects even exceed those of Cold War-era IRBMs like the Pershing II. Indeed, even when carrying conventional payloads, their high velocity turns them into very effective “bunker-busters” capable of threatening ICBM launch silos and underground command centers. This makes them ideal first-strike weapons, used against leadership and weapons sites, with the target country’s degraded nuclear response being restrained or limited by US anti-ballistic missile defenses which are being developed in parallel with hypersonic strike capabilities, and the still-untouched US nuclear arsenal.
Tags:hypersonic missile, hypersonic weapons, russia, usa
Why reinvent the wheel?
US are wasting their time trying to imitate the Russians.
Instead, they should simply apply the SpaceX’s method of guiding the first stage of their Falcon9 rocket back – it appears to be extremely effective and precise – consistently landing within a 2m spot!
Those grid-fins appear to be effective even at high supersonic-speeds.
“The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) picks up where the PrSM leaves of, and moreover is one of the missile designs using the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) developed by Sandia National Laborary.”
Aside from the obvious typo, South Front is totally enthrall to the Zionist mindset. This article is more accurate…
The report explains why the two square memorial water pools have exactly the same footprint that the twin towers had, with drain holes at their center, to carry away heat and contaminants from the bathtub into the Hudson.
One should be careful of what one wishes for..
Since the USA reserves first-strike option as part of their nuclear strategy, the possession of hypersonic delivery narrows the window of response time for potential adversaries.
Specifically, both China & Russia have non-first-strike doctrines, so in effect a hypersonic – armed USA *expands* China & Russia’s second-strike parameters.
That last sentence illustrates once again why I take no comfort in somebody saying there won’t be a 3rd world war, because nobody would survive. I have no doubt the U.S. would launch a first strike as a surprise attack in the expectation that any retaliation would be limited and wouldn’t destroy the entire country. They find it acceptable if millions are killed if the strike is deemed a success.
that I agree with totally. if there is any chance the the Anglo/Zionist elites can come out of a first strike in a way acceptable to them there will be a third world war..if in the process China/Russia are obliterated
I have been trying every angle of reasoning and I cant see a way out of this unless a popular movement sweeps away the deep state. I have been looking for a change in the american uprisng to popular democratic movement but it looks like the violence and looting are overwhelming.
if the violence/looting prevails the deep state is at work organizing and paying for the mayhem, to pre empt any chance of democratic development taking hold and sweeping all before it.
there is no chance for humanity if the Anglo/Zionists triumph forward from here..
oh man! I am sick of the world and how humans are, the things we do! I am no better never mind, but we are collectively not getting better
Its a terrible thing what happened to the human race, it cant be saved b/c their was no one to save it.
Humanity can save itself. Led by Russia and China alliance, there is hope and possibility. And Hegemon is falling apart right now. Slowly, but surely. Anglo Zionist elites are stupid. Their arrogance and hubris has led Russia and China into a strong alliance. One of the rules of war is that never let your enemies unite. But this is what provocations and threats have done. Russia and China forged strong relationship. Let me, with all due respect, remind you that vast majority of humanity wants peace and also in global polls, most of the world’s people identify USA as the greatest threat to world peace. Please read this article by Fred Reed:
These are the quotes that stood out to me:
“To everyone else, the militarism of the United States, its absurd military expenditures, its huge number of nuclear weapons, its desire to upgrade them, to develop small tactical nuclear weapons, its preparation for nuclear war with specialized flying bunkers–seems nutty. No other country does this. None wants to. In Mexico people roll their eyes. What the hell is wrong with the gringos?”
And here is another. Conclusion of the article.:
“From abroad, America is a feral, amoral, remorseless empire, rotting from within, willing to do anything to maintain its dominance. From inside the U.S., it seems otherwise. Do you, an American reader, want to kill Afghans? Buy another trillion dollars of nuclear weapons? War with Iran? Russia? But Americans have no influence over what Washington does, and the world judges by what it sees.”
Concerning China, I remember having a conversation with my Social Studies teacher (he was also my drama teacher) back in the spring, if I am not mistaken of 2001, 19 years ago, where he told me that in 15 years time, China will overtake US as world most powerful nation. If my School teacher could have seen this, then the “exceptional” elites should have seen this coming. Yet they did not prepare for this, and looks like they act surprised at what has happened. Not very bright folks, I must say. And not to mention doing everything they can in order so that people hate them and trigger a revolt. There is only so much people can take. I have listened to podcast by American Journalist, Chris Hedges about his book “America: The Farewell Tour”, where Mr. Hedges documented the rage and decay in US. The one thing that Chris Hedges said is that situation in US reminds him of Yugoslavia before it fell apart.
In conclusion no one knows what will happen, however let us allow a possibility for a better outcome. And remember if Hegemon is reluctant to attack Iran (the talk of Iran war has been continuing for years. I remember there was a fear of US attacking Iran in 2008, and one of Saker’s first articles back in 2007, have discussed possibility of attack on Iran in the summer of 2007, yet fortunately it did not happened. Cannot say that it is out the realm of possibility, however), and if Hegemon cannot subdue Cuba after 60 years (first 32 years from 1959, year of Cuban Revolution to 1991, year of fall of the Soviet Union, US might not have been able, due to Cuba being close ally of USSR). And Cuba is not thousands of Miles away, but right next to the United States (My family have been to Cuba in 2016, and they liked it. I unfortunately was unable to go.) The question becomes how will Hegemon fare against Russia and China, especially if they are united and standing shoulder to shoulder. Well have a great day and take care. I will leave you with this quote from Russian Deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov:
“We don’t believe the U.S. in its current shape is a counterpart that is reliable, so we have no confidence, no trust whatsoever. So our own calculations and conclusions are less related to what America is doing … we cherish our close and friendly relations with China. We do regard this as a comprehensive strategic partnership in different areas, and we intend to develop it further.”
It is taken for the article of Ray McGovern. Here is the link:
I understand where you come from my friend. However you are wrong, very wrong when you say ” I am sick of the world and how humans are, the things we do!”. Vast majority of humans want peace, and that their children live happily. It is only delusional anglo-zionist neocons who crave war. There are many stories of humans behaving with compassion. Let us not forget this. Here is but one example:
And let us not forget how Cuba helped other countries during Covid crisis. And also in addition Cuba in spite being close to the “world’s supposedly most powerful country” against all odds managed to hold on its own for 60 years. This is quite an achievement. Same goes for Venezuela and Iran. Iran bravely stood up to the hegemon back in January. Venezuela also bravely managed in spite of difficulties preserve its independence. In addition neither Chinese leadership nor Russian leadership desires war. They want cooperation and peaceful development. All this gives me hope. Also do not forget that Russia and China are fully aware of the danger and are not sleeping. They send stern warnings to Anglo Zionists that any attack will be met with strong response. As you can see yes there are terrible people in the world, however there are lots of good and decent people in this world. Who are building new world and who are trying everything they can to avert war. Let us not ignore them.
None of us have crystal ball and we cannot say what future brings, however let us allow a possibility for a better world. One never knows. Never estimate the impossible. Anglo Zionist elites are powerful yes, however they are not gods, and neither they are super humans. They are flesh and blood like you and me. For historical examples I can point to Shah of Iran. He looked impregnable while he was in power. That is until he lost this power in massive street protests. Once I was listening to lecture by Chris Hedges, American Journalist whom I have immense respect (even when I do not always agree with him). He aid how he was in East Germany when Berlin Wall came down. People were saying maybe a year will pass before there will be a free passage between East and West Berlin. Berlin wall fell just few short hours later. Also I listened to the podcast, where American author late Chalmers Johnson was saying how he would have never imagined back in 1985 that the Soviet Union would fall in just few years. And let us not forget that when USSR dissolved, it did so relatively peacefully without unleashing its formidable nuclear arsenal.
In conclusion, even in my country of Ukraine, people want peace. As a Ukrainian let me be clear, I do not like the government and Nazis who run it. I am ashamed of what is happening in Donbass. It is very painful. Especially seeing this video, back when there was EuroCup 2012:
Saker did mention on his blog in one of his articles that vast majority of Ukrainians hate Nazis. I remember reading a news article about the crisis in Sudan back in the summer of 2004, and one of the people said: We love our country, but we hate the system. I can say the same thing. I talk to my friends in Ukraine. Most of them do not like the government at all and want peace. When Poroshenko tried to stage a provocation in Kerch Strait, he wanted a martial law declared for 60 days. There was so much opposition to the martial law that Poroshenko had to take it down to 30 days, and still lost an election, polling in single digits. Do not forget that Poroshenko if I remember correctly promised to end the war in two weeks.
I also want to remind you that when I read about American peaceful delegation to Russia, most Russians have said, some with tears that they do not desire war. Just in conclusion I want to say that there are no guarantees how things will play out, however there is hope for a better world, and lets us hope and do everything we can in order to make this outcome possible. The examples above show that humanity wants a better world! Take care.
At present China doesn’t want a war neither does Russia.
However, USA would be very very much on the wrong side if it thinks that both countries are “sleeping”. Both countries are extremely “awake”. Both countries are aware of the danger. And what means a “first strike” nowadays? If USA thinks it can hold its status with a “first strike” it will be totally wrong. Russia and China would retaliate and at which scale we don’t know yet however I think most probably to the “point”.
Moreover, USA is known for its propaganda. Up til yet it hasn’t shown very much power of its military. To overthrow small and weak countries isn’t the same as to measure its power with a state at the same level or even above.
It is always a big difference to defend its own country especially if a country like China had a too long occupancy by a foreign power. And Russia will never kneel and bow to another country – it never has.
The biggest fault of the Hegemon is: the way of thinking. Ignorance, hypocrisy and self-righteousness are traps.