In the fiscal year that begins in October 2023, the US Navy plans to install hypersonic weapons systems on Zumwalt-class destroyers. In this sophisticated weapons development race with Russia and China, the US is attempting to acquire the first hypersonic weapon.
The Russian military claims to have already deployed hypersonic missiles and that one was fired for the first time in combat against a target in Ukraine on Saturday. The Pentagon was unable to confirm the employment of a hypersonic missile in the attack.
To catch up, the US military is speeding its development.
Before reaching the target, the US weapon would launch a ballistic missile and deploy a hypersonic glide vehicle that would travel at speed seven to eight times faster than sound.
Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, has started engineering and design work on the modifications needed to deploy the armament system aboard three Zumwalt-class destroyers in Maine.
The work will begin in the fiscal year that begins in October 2023 at an unnamed shipyard, according to the Navy.
Anything that travels faster than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, is classified as a hypersonic weapon. That’s roughly 3,800 miles per hour (6,100 kph). Intercontinental ballistic missiles are significantly more powerful than that, but they follow a predetermined path that allows them to be intercepted.
The US Navy announced plans to install hypersonic weapons on warships in the context of Russia’s claims to have deployed Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in a special military operation in Ukraine. Moscow’s announcement over the weekend about firing hypersonic missiles at targets in Ukraine marked the first time this weapon was used in combat. Russia says it currently has ballistic missiles with the ability to deploy HGVs as well as hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs). Russia at the end of 2021 fired a series of HCM Zircon, signaling the completion of the weapon testing process.
The US focus on hypersonic weapons shows a pivot after the country was hesitant due to technical barriers, including propulsion, control and heat resistance. The US has pursued the development of hypersonic weapons since the 2000s, focusing on two variants, the HGV and the HCM. HCM is the latest version of the cruise missile, which can be launched from submarines, warships, fighter jets and ground vehicles. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon has requested a budget of $3.8 billion for hypersonic weapons research in fiscal 2022. Previously, the US Department of Defense invested more than $1 billion a year in the program. research on hypersonic weapons, the main purpose of which is to compete with the ambitious programs of Russia and China.
All three countries appear to have made significant progress in overcoming major hurdles, such as protecting hypersonic weapons against the monstrous heat generated by friction with the air. In addition to Kinzhal, a weapon that can reach Mach 10, Russia also has the HGV Avangard (Mach 27). The Russian army at the end of 2019 officially commissioned Avangard capable of carrying nuclear warheads or conventional warheads. Some sources believe that Avangard’s nuclear warhead has a yield of up to 2 megatons (equivalent to 2 million tons of TNT). For comparison, the atomic bomb dropped by the US on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II was equivalent to only 15 kilotons (15,000 tons of TNT). Meanwhile, China also introduced the HGV Dongfeng-17 during the military parade in 2019.
The race to develop hypersonic weapons promises to change strategic calculus. Russia views hypersonic weapons armed with nuclear warheads as an attempt to defend themselves against future US ICBM interception capabilities. The Chinese military sees hypersonic weapons as a tool to give it an edge over better-equipped opponents. For example, if tensions over Taiwan or the South China Sea increase, China may be forced to launch pre-emptive strikes with hypersonic weapons, according to Larry Wortzel, an expert at the American Council on Foreign Policy. convention, paralyzing American forces in the Pacific.