In recent years, senior Pentagon officials and weapons developers have publicly stated that the United States is “number 3” in the world, behind Russia and China, in the field of hypersonic weapons.
Both Russia and China have made headlines with various demonstrations and tests of hypersonic weapons, developments that have undoubtedly caught the attention of the Pentagon.
Much is known about the Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, very visible and often elaborated in the media of each state. Under the visibility and clamor of attention focused on Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, the United States has made peace with its rapid development in the hypersonic realm.
USA and nuclear weapons
The Air Force and Army, for example, are already “firing” next-generation hypersonic weapons, and the Navy plans to arm its Zumwalt hypersonic destroyers by 2025.
Last May, for example, the Air Force successfully fired its AGM-183A Air Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) from a B-52.
“Once separated from the aircraft, the ARRW propellant ignited and burned for the predicted duration, reaching hypersonic speeds five times the speed of sound,” an Air Force statement said last year.
Rapidly approaching the weapon’s operational maturity, the ARRW clearly brings paradigm-shifting dimensions to the airstrike. The weapon can reach speeds of Mach 20 and attack ground and surface targets from the air.
The ARRW-armored F-35, for example, could use long-range sensors to identify enemy ships or surface drones and destroy them minutes or seconds from a safe distance. The advent of hypersonic armored aircraft will bring new aspects to airstrike and massively accelerate attack speeds.
Hypersonic weapons in the Army
The Army isn’t far behind with its Long-Range Hypersonic Missile, a new weapon with a joint stealth fighter body with the Army and Navy that is expected to be ready this year. The long-range hypersonic weapon, with the “Dark Eagle”, will deploy four launchers, each with two hypersonic missiles.
Aboard an Air Force C-17 airlifter, the LRHW was intended to be mobile on the route so that targets could be exposed to multiple changes in locations to increase surprise and attack power.
Perhaps most importantly, Army weapons developers already thinking about next-generation hypersonic applications have developed “insertion technology” programs to allow hypersonic attack to hit “moving targets.”
“We set technological priorities in the short term. We plan to keep more targets at risk by communicating with the weapon in flight and by moving or positioning the target to hit. We will also improve the war,” Robert Strider, lieutenant colonel in the Army’s hypersonic project office, told an audience several years ago, in 2021, at the Missile and Space Defense Conference in Huntsville, Alabama.
A class of hypersonic weapons
The Navy’s Tomahawk missile has a data path link that allows it to change targets in flight, and the Navy’s variant of the missile can be adapted to move the missile at sea.
The SM-6 naval missile is equipped with a dual seeker mode that allows the weapon to launch an electromagnetic coating, analyze its return, and adjust its course as necessary to destroy storage targets. Semi-active laser cannons are regularly used to drop moving targets with missiles, artillery, and even aerial bombs.
The concern against moving targets… exists, there is the ability to change the flight course and the ability of one missile to hit more than one target with multiple reentry vehicles.