Some in US Hyper for Theatre-Level Conventional Hypersonics, esp. vs PRC

Further to this post,

US Air Force Working furiously to Develop Hypersonics of various Sorts–while it tries to Figure Out what they’re actually for, or, “Mayhem”

elements within the Pentagon and the Washington think tank world certainly do seem to be genuinely excited about the operational vistas being offered by the new range of missiles under rapid development–from an article at Breaking Defense:

Pentagon’s Hypersonics Director Rebuts The Critics

Independent experts and the Pentagon’s hypersonics R&D director tell us a study of hypersonics by the Union of Concerned Scientists overlooks the very real advantages the new weapons offer the US – and its adversaries….

“The [UCS] analysis [see here] compares intercontinental ballistic missiles to hypersonic glide bodies, and the authors then make the conclusion that hypersonic glide bodies don’t offer much benefit for that mission, because they don’t significantly reduce time to target and they can theoretically be detected,” Michael White, the principal director for hypersonics in the Pentagon undersecretariat for research & engineering, told me. “But for that mission, the fact that you get there five or 10 minutes faster is not the value proposition, and just because you can detect an incoming hypersonic missile that does not mean you can shoot it down or determine where it is going to impact.

“The key attribute for a hypersonic weapon is the trajectory uncertainty due to maneuverability enabled by high speed flight within the atmosphere,” he said.In other words: The primary reason Russia and China want hypersonic weapons is that they’re extremely hard to intercept, even more so than ballistic missiles. Moscow has been paranoid about US missile defenses neutralizing their nuclear arsenal at least since Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative back in 1983, even though “Star Wars” never materialized. Beijing has a relatively small ICBM arsenal, so they keep a careful eye on any improvements to America’s current, very limited ballistic missile defense…

“In several respects, the authors set up a straw man and then demolish it,” Tom Mahnken, a former defense official and Navy veteran who now heads the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, argued. “The authors are looking at one particular case: intercontinental boost-glide vehicles…but I don’t know many folks who envision the US, Russia, or China investing in large numbers of intercontinental hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.”

“I don’t think you can use this analysis to draw broader conclusions about the types of shorter-range, conventionally-armed hypersonic weapons that states are also investing in,” agreed CSBA scholar Evan Montgomery.

And those shorter-range hypersonic missiles are what the US is actually building, not intercontinental weapons.

“What we are doing is developing a family of air, land, and sea-launched, theater-range, conventionally armed systems to defeat targets of critical importance so that we can maintain tactical battlefield dominance in a high-end fight,” said White.

“In the theater mission, when we look at comparing a long-range strike with a traditional subsonic cruise missile, to that same mission using a hypersonic glide vehicle or cruise missile, the speed difference is a factor of at least 10,” White said. “So instead of taking two hours to fly the route, we can get there in 12 minutes.”

With that kind of speed, and a range that – while shorter than ICBMs, is longer than many existing US missiles – theater hypersonics can perform time-critical strike missions that US forces simply can’t do today…

The US…sees theater hypersonics as a way to penetrate theater air and missile defenses that could keep its current missiles, fighters, and bombers at bay in a conventional conflict.

“The warfighting effect of these capabilities is transformational,” White said. “We’ve done the analysis, and fighting the tactical fight with and without them, there’s a huge difference.”

In the second article, out tomorrow [Feb. 2], we go into these claims and counter-claims in depth – from the moment a hypersonic missile is launched to the moment of impact.

It will be interesting to see how much emphasis the Biden Administration, with a real interest in arms control but also a real determination it appears to stand up to the PRC, will handle the plans for rapid fielding of hypersonics–and what will Congress pay for?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

3 thoughts on “Some in US Hyper for Theatre-Level Conventional Hypersonics, esp. vs PRC”

  1. Now, further links at original:

    ‘Army Discloses Hypersonic LRHW Range Of 1,725 Miles; Watch Out China
    The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon can fly over 2,775 km, an Army official told Breaking Defense. That figure probably applies to the Navy’s CPS version as well.

    How far can the Army’s hypersonic boost-glide missile — and, probably, its Naval variant — actually go? Consider this Pacific nightmare: China invades Taiwan, but all of America’s allies refuse to let the US use their territory or airspace. Long-Range Hypersonic Weapons, based on US soil in Guam, could still strike Chinese troops besieging Taipei.

    Conversely, in China’s nightmare scenario, where US allies do let American missile units use their soil, LRHW batteries in Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea could strike targets more than one thousand miles inside Chinese territory. What’s more, the Navy version of the LRHW, called Conventional Prompt Strike, could launch from submarines or ships at sea anywhere in the [Western] Pacific.

    “The Long Range Hypersonic Weapon provides a capability at a distance greater than 2,775 km,” an Army spokesman told me. That’s about 1,725 miles – at a minimum. The “greater than” leaves the door wide open for a significantly longer range than that…

    Why would the Navy need to be consulted? While the Army’s statement only applies to the Army version, the land-based LRHW, the Navy’s sea-launched Conventional Prompt Strike weapon uses the identical rocket booster and hypersonic “glide body,” just packaged for launch from ships and subs instead of trucks. So it’s hard to imagine the range could be much different. If the Army version reaches 1,725-plus miles, the Navy version almost certainly does too…’

    Mark Collins


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