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article imageOp-Ed: Hypersonic weapon gold rush, or strategic horror story?

By Paul Wallis     Jan 29, 2019 in World
Paris - The news that France has entered the rapidly expanding hypersonic weapons field isn’t surprising as such, but it means the floodgates have opened on this technology. France’s 6000mph hypersonic gliders may be the face of war in future.
Global news, in fact, is full of information about hypersonic missiles, counter measures, and more. The news about France’s hypersonic development program includes some rather revealing pictures of a highly aerodynamic body, with wings. Payloads aren’t specified, but the Ariane air to surface theme indicates pretty respectable weight of punch around either side of 200 - 500kg as a ballpark figure.
What’s so scary about hypersonic weapons? Everything.
The scary factors are real enough:
• The hypersonic class of weapons basically makes conventional interceptors obsolete, as Russian President Putin made a point of mentioning when unveiling Russia’s new arsenal.
• Hypersonic weapons could carry nukes, without much effort. That means the ABM treaty, and their related ABM systems are out of business.
• Hypersonic weapons aren’t major operatic productions, compared to ICBMs. The cost is likely to be lower, deployment easier, and handling much less neurotic.
• Hypersonic weapons are “agile”. This means they’re manoeuvrable, can change course easily in flight, and guidable. ICBMs are unable to do these things, and most conventional guided weapons are much slower and far less agile.
• Russia and China have been developing hypersonic weapons for some time. The US does have a working development program, apparently waddling along at Congressional geriatric speed.
• Many countries are either in the process of research and/or acquisition. Hypersonic weapons are definitely part of the mix of any new war, wherever it happens.
• At short ranges, hypersonic weapons are much harder to counter and avoid.
Are hypersonic weapons invulnerable? No.
While the basic statement that hypersonic weapons are safe enough from conventional interceptors is accurate, they’re anything but invulnerable:
1. Any damage to the hypersonic air frame may be fatal. A proximity or air pressure hit to these objects, already under high stress, could do the job, making them instantly unstable, and probably unmanageable.
2. These weapons are quite easily detectable, simply because of their conspicuous speed. They can’t pretend to be something else. (A stealth mode is quite likely, but also involves some tech and logistics which aren’t currently being mentioned, if they’re happening.)
3. Basic arms race theory says that for every weapon a countermeasure will be developed. This usually happens more quickly depending on the perceived level of threat, which in this case is considerable. A range of options, including hypersonic counter missiles, beam weapons, area airburst weapons and other pretty straightforward options are obvious options.
Another issue
The most likely real threat with hypersonic weapons is the level of aggression of users. Typically wars are started by those with confidence in their ability to succeed. Adding high potency weapons to an existing doctrine of aggression, whether pre-emptive of calculated attacks, makes this world a much less safer place.
The nutcases of today may not be too keen, particularly when they don’t have real answers to nuclear strikes, but nutcases of the future may not be so picky. Reassuring thought, isn’t it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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