Related Video Above: Defending Against Hypersonics: Rob Nelson, Roundtable and Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven discuss
China’s now operational DF-17 hypersonic missile was specifically developed to destroy “foreign military bases and fleets in the Western Pacific.” according to DoD’s 2021 report on the People’s Liberation Army.
“In 2020, a PRC based military expert described the primary purpose of the DF-17 as striking foreign military bases and fleets in the Western Pacific,” DoD’s 2021 Report on Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China, states.
DF-17 Hypersonic Missiles
The DF-17 missiles are slated to replace some of China’s older Short Range Ballistic Missiles with high-speed, maneuverable and extremely lethal Hypersonic Glide Vehicles.
One interesting question of great relevance to this would relate to how far along China may be when it comes to engineering a hypersonic missile to hit maneuvering targets?
Details of the DF-17 are likely tough to come by, yet an ability to track, target and then adjust course to destroy moving targets on land or at sea introduces a very serious risk to the U.S. Navy.
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Chinese hypersonic weapons themselves present unprecedented risks to the U.S., as Pentagon leaders routinely say publicly that the U.S. has been behind China in developing hypersonics.
What about operational Chinese hypersonic missiles capable of attacking Carrier Strike Groups on the move in the open ocean? China may or may not have this capability, however, it would most likely not surprise U.S. weapons, developers, in part because the U.S. is now doing the same thing.
U.S. Hitting Maneuvering Targets
U.S. senior leaders in the Hypersonic Weapons Project office say their engineers are working on a “tech insertion” into the fast-emerging Army Long Range Hypersonic Weapon and Navy Conventional Prompt Strike weapons designed to enable the ability to fire multiple weapons at once and hit “maneuvering” targets.
Such a technical capacity would prevent ships or ground convoys from simply moving to avoid being targeted or hit by an approaching hypersonic weapon.
As is understandably the case, details pertaining to this kind of technological effort are not likely to be available, yet the challenge may relate to designing a projectile and guidance system that can adjust course in flight at hypersonic speeds.
The Dept. of Defense already has a number of weapons systems able to adjust course in flight to hit moving targets, such as the Maritime Tactical Tomahawk or SM-6 interceptor which is enabled by a dual-mode seeker. These weapons systems use two-way datalinks and networked guidance systems to receive updated targeting data and make in-flight changes to establish a moving “track” on a target. How soon will the Pentagon be able to do this at hypersonic speeds? Can China already do this? Could be possible.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.