This Time the Missile Gap Is Real — In Hypersonic Weapons

This Time the Missile Gap Is Real — In Hypersonic Weapons by Daniel Gouré – Russia-Insider

The US is behind Russia and China

In a speech on the Senate floor on August 14, 1958, then-Senator and aspiring presidential candidate John F. Kennedy proclaimed the existence of a “missile gap” between the United States and Russia. Kennedy went on to warn that unless this gap was immediately addressed, the result would be the erosion of the U.S. strategic forces’ ability to deter the Soviet Union. It later became apparent that the balance in nuclear-capable ballistic missiles decisively favored the United States.

A new “missile gap” is emerging, one that is based in fact. This is the disparity between the United States and its main competitors, Russia and China, in the field of hypersonic weapons systems. A hypersonic vehicle is one that moves through the atmosphere at a minimum speed of five times that of sound, or Mach 5. A hypersonic cruise missile travels continuously through the air employing a special high-powered engine. A hypersonic glide vehicle is launched into space atop a ballistic missile, after which it maneuvers through the upper reaches of the atmosphere until it dives towards its target. Both vehicle types can carry either conventional or nuclear weapons.

Hypersonic weapons systems could dramatically alter the existing balance of conventional military power forces between the United States and its major competitors. They could strike key military targets such as airfields, command and control centers, depots and force concentrations almost without warning. Hypersonic delivery systems are viewed as particularly useful against aircraft carriers, large surface combatants, amphibious warfare ships and even transports carrying critical military supplies.

This new gap could be far more consequential than that which concerned Senator Kennedy some sixty years ago. Hypersonic weapons are extremely difficult to track with existing air and missile defense sensors and virtually impossible to intercept. According to General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”

Senior U.S. defense officials have made it clear that Russia and China currently have the lead in the race to develop and deploy hypersonic missiles. Last year China tested a hypersonic missile, the DF-17. According to the recently confirmed Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Michael Griffin:

China has fielded or can field… hypersonic delivery systems for conventional prompt strike that can reach out thousands of kilometers from the Chinese shore, and hold our carrier battle groups or our forward deployed forces… at risk.

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