US push for hypersonic weaponry is backed by Ukraine war

The U.S. Navy, which is behind Russia in hypersonic weapon development, is racing to get its first. Installation on a warship could begin as early as next year.

US push for hypersonic weaponry is backed by Ukraine war

These weapons travel at speeds similar to those of ballistic missiles, but are difficult to destroy because they are maneuverable. The United States is currently in a race against China and Russia to develop them.

According to the Russian military, it has already launched hypersonic missiles. They claimed that they were deployed against targets in Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday. This marks the weapon's first combat use. The Pentagon could not confirm that a hypersonic weapon was used during the attacks.

To catch up, the American military is speeding up its development.

The U.S. weapon would launch as a ballistic missile, and release a hypersonic glider that would travel speeds seven to eight times faster then sound speed before hitting the target.

General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works in Maine has started engineering and design work to make the necessary changes to install the weapon systems on three Zumwalt class destroyers.

According to the Navy, work would start at a yet unnamed shipyard sometime during fiscal year 2023. It is expected that it will be completed by October 2023.

Hypersonic weapons refer to anything that travels beyond Mach 5, which is five times faster than sound speed. This is approximately 3,800 mph (6.100 kph). Intercontinental ballistic missiles travel at a predictable speed, so it is possible to intercept them.

These new weapons can be maneuvered.

Existing missile defense systems such as the Navy's Aegis would struggle to intercept such objects, because their maneuverability makes them unpredictable and speed leaves little time for reaction.

Russia claims it has hypersonic glide vehicle and cruise missile-capable ballistic missiles.

According to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (a Tennessee Democrat) who chairs a subcommittee responsible for monitoring the program, the U.S. "is trying to catch up" by failing to invest in new technology.

He stated, "If we want parity, then we will have to back this effort by more money, talent, and time than we are currently."

As the backdrop to the Pentagon's budget proposal, which outlines its goals for hypersonics later in the month, we see the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Due to a design flaw that benefits the Navy in this instance, the three stealthy Zumwalt class destroyers that will be equipped with the new weapons have ample space.

The gun system was designed to hit targets up to 90 miles (145 km) away using GPS-guided rocket-boosted projectiles. The Navy cancelled the projectiles because they were too costly. Each ship was left with a useless loading system as well as a pair 155-mm guns concealed in angular turbines.

Bryan Clark, a defense analyst with the Hudson Institute, stated that while retrofitting all three ships will likely be more expensive than $1 billion, it will provide a new capability for the tech-laden, electrical-drive ships that cost $23.5 billion to build and design.

"Engineering isn't that difficult. Clark stated that it will only take time and money to achieve the desired result.

According to the Navy, the Navy plans to deploy the weapons on destroyers by the end of the 2025 fiscal year. The Navy will also deploy the weapons on Virginia-class nuclear powered attack submarines by the end of the 2028 fiscal year.

Clark stated that the destroyers would be stationed in the Pacific Ocean to deter China from attacking Taiwan if it becomes emboldened by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

After hesitating over the past due to technological hurdles, the U.S. has shifted its focus on hypersonic weaponry. In the meantime, adversaries continue research and development.

In late December, Russia launched a wave of Zircon hypersonic cruise rockets to signal the end of weapon testing.

Loren Thompson, a Lexington Institute defense analyst, stated that Russia might exaggerate the capabilities of super weapons in order to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere.

Russia does not have many weapons at the moment, and it isn't clear how effective they are, he stated.

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