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How Far Along Are US Hypersonic Weapons? They are Basically HERE

The United States is focusing on the development of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon - to potentially be available as soon as 2023

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

One of the misconceptions is that the US doesn't have hypersonic weapons. And sure enough at a missile defense conference just last summer, senior leaders flatly and publicly say the US is number three when it comes to hypersonics, behind both China and Russia in terms of demonstrated capability, but that doesn't mean it's not happening at a massively rapid pace. 

Long Range Hypersonic Weapon

General Thurgood is in charge of the armies and navies hypersonic weapons development program spoke at the conference as well. And he talked about long range hypersonic weapon, it's a new hypersonic weapon that's extremely capable, that they're very focused on timing will be available as soon as 2023. 

So the testing the development is already underway, and fast tracking the schedule so that that kind of deterrent, that kind of offensive possibility is available as soon as possible. As part of that weapons developers with hypersonics. You hear a lot about how they can't hit maneuvering targets. Well, maybe maybe not hang on a sec. 

Video Above: How Quickly can US Close Hypersonics Weapons Gap with Russia & China?

The army and weapons developers with hypersonics are looking at what they call it Tech Insertion. And it's essentially using software and different kinds of sensor systems to upgrade the hypersonic targeting so that it can actually stay with and take out moving target. As technology isn't unprecedented, the tomahawk lock for for example, as a two way data enabled ability to change course and flight. 

The Navy's SM-6 interceptor has an active seeker so it can respond to incoming pings and adjust to moving ships while in flight as well. So the technology is there. The challenge is can you get that to hypersonic speeds, obviously that's an area of of huge focus, but that is by no means beyond the realm of possible.

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Russia’s use of hypersonic weapons in warfare represents a new development in the history of modern conflict, introducing a previously unprecedented speed of attack.

There may have been little actual tactical benefit or rationale for using hypersonic weapons against Ukraine, so it seems to appear as somewhat of an intimidation tactic to show the US, NATO and the world that it now operates with a margin of military superiority to some extent.

Hypersonic weapons certainly present a number paradigm-changing levels of high-speed attack. Traveling at 5 times the speed of sound, defenders simply have little to no time to actually see, track and therefore defend against incoming hypersonic attacks.

US Army weapons developers directly and clearly say that the US is “number three” in the world of hypersonics, behind both Russia and China. However, while this sounds and is potentially alarming, there are a few lesser recognized things to consider regarding hypersonics. First, the US is fast-progressing with its own hypersonic weapons arsenal and plans to deliver a ground-launched Long Range Hypersonic Weapon by 2023. Eight missiles will travel in a mobile battery and operate with an ability to hold long-range targets at risk of ultra-high-speed hypersonic attack. The new LRHW will also be deployable aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo plane and therefore be capable of expeditionary operations and rapid mobilization. LRHW developers are working intensely to achieve an ambitious timeframe given the current global threat environment. Army developers are also thinking forward and pursuing new innovations to enable hypersonic weapons to actually hit “maneuvering” targets, something which has not thus far been possible. Senior Army weapons developers call it a “tech insertion,” indicating that sensor and software upgrades can help modify the weapon’s flight guidance and targeting systems to introduce an ability to track and fire upon mobile targets. This would of course be extremely significant for ground commanders looking to maneuver into new positions and hold advancing enemy targets at risk.

At the same time, the Air Force continues to make rapid progress with its Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, a fighter-jet and airplane-mounted weapon able to fire at ground targets at high speeds. Hypersonics increase survivability to a large degree because launching an attack means giving up your combat location as it can be detected by an enemy at the moment of launch. Its speed of travel however, means the launching location will have a much better time window through which to relocate and escape detection.

Therefore, if there is any kind of short-lived “gap” or discrepancy in military capability giving Russia a troubling window of advantage, the Pentagon is now extremely close to closing it.

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.

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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization