Skip to main content

Video Analysis: How Quickly can the US Close the Hypersonics Gap with Russia and China?

*This Article is Being Republished for Viewer Interest

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

Would Russia fire Hypersonics? If Russia now has operational hypersonic weapons, and there is an actual capability gap, discrepancy or distinct Russian advantage related to the US with hypersonics, would Putin seek to demonstrate or exploit that gap in some kind of attack on Ukraine

The question was posed to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby who said an invasion or occupation of Ukraine is not the kind of operation in which a long-range hypersonic weapon might be needed per say. However, Kirby was clear to emphasize that he did not want to get into Putin’s “head,” so to speak, and did not want to speculate much as to what he might or might not do.

The UR-100UTTKh ICBM launched from the Dombarovsky Air Base carrying the Avangard

The UR-100UTTKh ICBM launched from the Dombarovsky Air Base carrying the Avangard

“It wouldn't be exactly clear if the intent is to invade Ukraine, why one would need a hypersonic weapon to do that. Those weapons, as you know, are meant to be used at extremely long intercontinental ranges, and to approach with stealth and speed….again, I don't know what's in his head, but one would not think that one would need that sort of weapon if one was going to invade Ukraine from right across the border,” Kirby said at the Pentagon.

However, it does not seem entirely impossible that Putin might want to showcase Russia’s 

hypersonic weapons superiority, and there are tactical circumstances to be sure in which a hypersonic projectile could be used to destroy a target just several hundred miles away. Such an attack, were it to be on fixed Ukrainian positions, or even small units on the move, while tactically unnecessary, be contemplated as a show of power to NATO and the West.

Artist's rendition of Avangard hGV (Russia MoD)

Artist's rendition of Avangard hGV (Russia MoD)

A demonstrated Russian superiority in the realm of hypersonic weapons might raise the threat of a high-speed attack in Europe. Perhaps Putin might consider hypersonics as a surprise tactic with which to quickly annex or overrun countries in Eastern Europe before NATO could effectively respond? However unlikely it may be that Russia would pursue a military confrontation with the West, he certainly could be unpredictable to a degree and the Pentagon is likely to be considering the fullest possible range of contingencies.

As for Ukraine, Kirby did raise the possibility that Russia could either attempt a small-scale incursion or pursue a full occupation, a scenario which would require a large amount of sustainment and logistical support. One possible target might be the area of Donbass, Kirby said, pointing out that Russian state media is talking about “Ukrainian aggressions” in the area, perhaps to marshall Russian support for an incursion.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

“He (Putin) could do something on a small scale, of a temporary nature, perhaps in the Eastern Part. In Donbass, you're hearing a lot of Russian state media talk about Ukrainian aggressions in the Donbass, or he could do something much bigger,” Kirby said.

What does Russia Already Have on the Ukrainian Border?

Long-range rockets, artillery and missiles, special operations units and even air-and-missile defenses are among the combat assets now being moved by Russia to the Ukrainian border, a sign that any potential military campaign might be able to draw upon a wide sphere of attack possibilities.

This dynamic was addressed at the Pentagon by DoD spokesman John Kirby who said that the forces themselves being moved by Russia are significant by themselves, but that additional variables such as the type of weapons being moved into position are also of great relevance.

“But what's important is not just the numbers, it's the capabilities. And what we see is that he is really putting in place robust – what we would call Combined Arms Capabilities in Belarus, and along that border with Ukraine in Russia. That means not just infantry, or tracked vehicles, but artillery and long-range fires, and air and missile defense, as well as special operations,” Kirby told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript of his remarks.

Long range fires, for example, can be used to enable a deeper, longer-extending invasion of a territory, as they are typically used to “soften up” or destroy defenses from safer stand-off ranges to better enable infantry and armored vehicles to advance on an enemy. Mobile air and missile defenses also contribute to this equation as they could give advancing forces an opportunity to defend against incoming rockets, artillery and missiles intended to disrupt or stop their forward advancement. 

S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems

S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems

Russian air defenses such as S-400s for example, are road mobile and can travel on the back of large trucks in support of advancing ground forces. The intent here would of course be to diffuse, stop or fend off air attacks upon maneuvering armored units. An interesting report in The National Interest cites a Russian Ministry of Defense statement announcing that Russian S-400 air defenses have been sent to Belarus for exercises.

Video Above: Scott Rutter, Expert of Russian Tactics and Doctrine Discusses the Russia Ukraine Conflict

Kirby also referred to something he has mentioned before related to sustainment and wartime logistics. He has previously addressed what he said was a visible Russian effort to move medical supplies and other key equipment needed to provide logistical support for an extended military campaign.

“It's not just the Combined Arms Capabilities, it's the ability to sustain these troops in the field for a period of time. So even as he has added combat capability, he has also added logistics and sustainment capability. In other words, the ability to keep them in the field for longer and longer periods of time,” Kirby said.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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