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Russia and China Outpacing U.S. in Hypersonic Missiles

Pentagon officials and key lawmakers are concerned with how fast Russia and China are developing their missile technology, advocating for more investment in hypersonic and other defense missiles as Russia tested their so-called hypersonic missile this month, while China tested something similar last year with expectations of it entering service in the near future.

Last week, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, described hypersonic missiles as missiles that can travel more than five times the speed of sound. Hyten further illustrated the hypersonic missile in detail.

[Hypersonic] starts out like a ballistic missile, but then it depresses the trajectory and then flies more like a cruise missile or an airplane. So, it goes up into the low reaches of space, and then turns immediately back down and then levels out and flies at a very high level of speed.

Earlier this month, in a speech on the state of the nation, President Vladimir Putin heavily touted his new nuclear-powered missiles and weaponry, which included a hypersonic missile, and boasted them as “invincible” against U.S. missile defenses. For China, they reportedly conducted seven tests of experimental systems from 2014 to 2016, which two of them were tested in November and were ballistic missiles with a hypersonic glide vehicle. The U.S. expects China to reach operating proficiency with their new missile weaponry around 2020.

Although the U.S. posed confidence to the public, saying that “it is fully prepared” to respond to such threats, Hyten admitted, in a congressional testimony last week, that the U.S. missile defense system is incapable of stopping hypersonic missiles. Hyten has advocated space-based sensors as a means of strengthening the U.S.’s missile defenses to combat against hypersonic missiles.

I believe we need to pursue improved sensor capabilities to be able to track, characterize and attribute the threats, wherever they come from. And, right now, we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and the limited number of radars that we have around the world. In order to see those threats, I believe we need a new space sensor architecture.

What’s more, Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, when asked if Russia and China are outpacing the U.S. on hypersonic missiles, he firmly replied yes. Karako criticized the U.S. and the last five administrations for not prioritizing and progressing with developing their missile capabilities as well as sensors and shooters that are necessary to shoot down foreign threats. He also supported the need for space-based sensors.

However, Karako credited the Trump administration for unveiling the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review as they were put in place to focus on the missile weaponry competition with Russia and China.

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who is chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, acknowledged that the U.S. is falling behind with their hypersonic missile program and that they will be included in the discussion of this year’s annual defense policy bill.

To close the gap with Russia and China, Pentagon officials have been conversing about budget proposals that would put more money into the development of hypersonic missiles and its defense systems. Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there’s $42 million for 2019 budget to work on a prototype for space-based sensors. Meanwhile, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said her fiscal 2019 budget had $258 million for hypersonic missiles, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Steven Walker said his fiscal 2019 budget for hypersonic had $256.7 million.

[via The Hill]

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