From the time since I was in high school, (01-04) the United States has flirted with the idea of hypersonic missile systems that are capable of Mach 5 or better. These missiles would be able of penetrating defense networks as if they weren’t even there, while delivering either a conventional or nuclear warhead. Deployment of such missiles would greatly shift the balance of power to the user and give any opposing nation a moment of pause before deciding to take retaliatory action. So where are they? Its been nearly two decades, and billions of defense dollars since I first heard about this program. Russian and China have already developed and deployed, albeit to a limited extent, their own versions of hypersonic missile systems.
In a latest article by Popular Mechanics titled, “Russia Just Tested Its Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missile”, known as the Zircon, its purpose is to hit not only targets on land but as well as ships at sea. This Zircon would be able to achieve velocities up to Mach 9! To quote from the article, “Depending on the missile’s flight profile a U.S. Navy carrier battle group defended by the Aegis Combat System would have between two minutes and 20 seconds to detect, track, and shoot down the missile.” The U.S. Navy’s Aegis combat suite is the most advanced and sophisticated warfare system ever put into service, awed by most nations including our allies. We rely heavily on Aegis systems for everything from theater ballistic missile defense to providing a networked defense grid for our carrier strike groups while deployed.
Despite this, the U.S. Air Force recently cancelled its Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program or HCSW for short with Lockheed Martin in leu of a different version known as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. While the ARRW will incorporate new technologies and give us hypersonic defense capabilities, it comes somewhat late in the game. Lockheed expects to have a prototype by 2021, while this may seem soon the fact of the matter is Russian, and China are ready to go with theirs. This is also after the Pentagon has literally thrown money at Lockheed under different programs bogging down the development through typical government/contractor bureaucracy. We cannot risk any further delays in hypersonic development if we wish to remain a global power in the years to come.