Hypersonic Weapons: The New “Cold War” with China

By James Charles
Artistic Rendering of an X-51A Hypersonic Aircraft, provided by the U.S. Air Force

U.S. and China in Arms Race to Develop Hypersonic Technology

On June 1st, 2015, Kris Osborn of Military.com reported that the United States Air Force is currently working to develop hypersonic aircraft,  which will be capable of traveling at five times the speed of sound. Aircraft with this capability can be used to attack enemy targets thousands of miles away in less than an hour, leaving the target with virtually no time to detect the aircraft on radar let alone defend against it or stop it.

The technology is expected to be ready to use by the year 2023, and will “defy the next frontier in speed” since we broke the sound barrier almost seventy years ago, according to The Air Force Times.

 

hypersonic

Artistic Rendering of an X-51A Hypersonic Aircraft, provided by the U.S. Air Force

 

“Defined as anything traveling above Mach 5, hypersonic flight usually clocks in between 3,800 and 4,000 miles per hour – fast enough to traverse the continental United States in about a half an hour.”

The term “Mach” is used to to describe the speed of an object in relation to the speed of sound. For example, Mach 2 would be twice the speed of sound, Mach 3 would be triple, and so on.

According to this article on WeAreTheMighty.com, hypersonic aircraft could be used to not only attack enemy locations, but also transmit vital reconnaissance data back to the U.S. Air Force before ultimately crashing and being destroyed. As Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias stated, however, they have yet to develop navigational systems capable of travelling at hypersonic speeds.

China Hides Progress from Media

Frighteningly, China has also been working in this type of technology since at least 2014 and possibly earlier. What’s even scarier is that the Chinese government has been rather successful in keeping their progress well-hidden from the media. The aforementioned article in The Air Force Times concluded with the following statement:

“The development is what experts say could become a hypersonic arms race. China has already tested a hypersonic glide vehicle, which the Pentagon has reportedly dubbed “WU-14.” Military officials fear that missiles traveling at such high speeds could easily bypass U.S. defenses, demolishing aircraft carriers in the Pacific with conventional payloads or even delivering a weapon strike on the U.S. mainland.”

Additionally, The Washington Free Beacon reported:

“Since China has refused to negotiate limits on its strategic weapons and remains highly secretive about all its arms programs, ‘the safe course for Washington would be to avoid any further delay in developing its own Prompt Global Strike capability to deploy if China does the same.’”

It is a shame that our own leaders were not as successful as China in keeping their developments in this matter a secret. But, under this regime – which has a reputation for telling our enemies when and where we are going to strike – it should come as no surprise.

It should also be noted that Russia is currently the only other nation working to develop hypersonic weaponry. If something doesn’t change, we could be in a “hypersonic Cold War” with two nations instead of just one.