Russia, US competing in hypersonic missiles race. What does this mean?

Russia At War

(NewsNation) — The United States is in a race with Russia and China to develop hypersonic missiles, which travel at speeds akin to ballistic missiles but are difficult to shoot down because of their maneuverability.

Lagging behind Russia in developing the weapons, the U.S. Navy is rushing to field its first, with installation on a warship starting as soon as late next year.

The Russian military says it already deployed hypersonic missiles, claiming on both Saturday and Sunday to have used them against targets in Ukraine, marking the weapon’s first use in combat. The Pentagon couldn’t confirm a hypersonic weapon was used in the attacks. NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said this potential deployment means that the Russians could be having potential issues in Ukraine.

“While it sounds really sort of sexy and important that this was used, it may also show that Russia is starting to run out of its precision-guided ammunition,” Vittert said on “Morning in America.” “Those are the cruise missiles that can travel over a long period of long distance and hit a certain target like this ammunition dump, it must be hit with real precision. The other thing it shows is the fact that the Russians are loathe to send either their bombers or their fighters all the way into western Ukraine because of the Ukrainian Air Defense System. So yeah, it does sound pretty interesting, if the Russians have this technology, they’re willing to use it.”

Hypersonic weapons are defined as anything traveling beyond Mach 5, or five times faster than the speed of sound, or about 3,800 mph. Intercontinental ballistic missiles far exceed that threshold but travel in a predictable path, making it possible to intercept them. Hypersonic missiles are harder to track and harder to shoot down. That’s one of the reasons the missiles are so dangerous: They have a higher chance of avoiding those missile defense systems Ukraine has.

Existing U.S. missile defense systems, including the Navy’s Aegis system, would have trouble intercepting such objects because maneuverability makes their movement unpredictable and speed leaves little time to react.

North Korea, China and Russia have all been trying to develop them as long as the United States has. North Korea allegedly tested the weapon in January, its second trial in a three-month period.

In this year’s Pentagon budget, the military requested $3.8 billion for hypersonic research to create weapons. The U.S. weapon would launch like a ballistic missile and would release a hypersonic glide vehicle that would reach speeds seven to eight times faster than the speed of sound before hitting the target.

In Maine, General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works has begun engineering and design work on changes necessary to install the weapon system on three Zumwalt-class destroyers.

The work would begin at a yet-to-be-named shipyard sometime in fiscal year that begins in October 2023, the Navy said. The Navy intends to field the weapons on the destroyers in the 2025 fiscal year and on Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines in the 2028 fiscal year, the Navy said.

The U.S. focus on hypersonic weapons represents a pivot after hesitating in the past because of technological hurdles. Potential adversaries, meanwhile, continued research and development.

Russia fired off a salvo of Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles in late December, heralding the completion of weapon testing.

But Russia may be exaggerating the capability of such super weapons to compensate for weakness in other areas, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

For the time being, Russia doesn’t have many of the weapons, and it’s unclear how effective they are, he said.

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