The Hypersonic Threat That Keeps US Commanders Up At Night
By Jamie McIntyre, The Washington Examiner
It travels at more than five times the speed of sound, more than a mile per second, below U.S. missile defenses. It can carry conventional or nuclear weapons, able to reach anywhere in the world in three hours or less, and both China and Russia are developing them, as is the U.S.
The scary weapon of the near future is what's known as a hypersonic glide vehicle, sometimes called a "wave rider," because its aerodynamics allow the winged projectile to skip along the atmosphere, or glide on a smooth, flat trajectory after being launched via missile.
And the description most applied to them by U.S. military commanders is "game changer."
"Hypersonic glide vehicles are threats both Russia and China are building now," said Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, in recent testimony before the Senate. "They are very, very significant in terms of our ability to see them and provide warning."
Hyten, who oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal and is responsible for providing the president with options in the event of nuclear war, is concerned about the ability of the unpowered gliders to deliver nuclear weapons, with little time for a considered response.
But since Russia already has an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBMs sufficient to obliterate the U.S., hypersonic gliders don't actually tip the "balance of terror," experts say.
"I would argue in the case of Russia, very long-range nuclear-armed gliders would actually just reinforce the status quo, would not create a new threat," said James Acton, senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"As scary as that sounds, Russia already has the ability to annihilate the United States with nuclear weapons, and there is nothing we can do about that."