The Problem with Hypersonic Missiles: “None of this stuff works yet.”

The Problem with Hypersonic Missiles: “None of this stuff works yet.”

David Axe

Security,

Don’t get too excited about hypersonic weapons, one prominent U.S. defense journalist advised. According to him, we still don’t know for sure whether the Mach-5-plus munitions actually work.

Don’t get too excited about hypersonic weapons, one prominent U.S. defense journalist advised. According to him, we still don’t know for sure whether the Mach-5-plus munitions actually work.

Sure, Russia and China are moving quickly to deploy hypersonic anti-ship and land-attack missiles. The U.S. armed forces meanwhile are collaborating on a family of Mach-5 weapons that could enter service in the early 2020s.

The U.S. Navy already is considering modifying submarines and destroyers to launch the big, fast munitions. The U.S. Air Force wants to combine hypersonic missiles with its new concept for a big, heavily-armed “arsenal plane.”

But skepticism is in order, David Larter advised in a November 2019 column in Defense News. “The catch is that none of this stuff works yet,” Larter wrote. “I want to emphasize that all of what we’re talking about here are prototypes.”

Larter quoted Mike Griffin, a top Pentagon acquisitions official and a major advocate of hypersonic weapons.

“Let’s just propose a thought experiment,” Griffin said in September 2019. “Which do you think the Chinese leadership would fear more: 2,000 conventional strike missiles possessed by the United States and its allies in the western Pacific capable of ranging Chinese targets, or one new carrier? Because those two things cost about the same amount of money. Those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves.”

“Now Griffin wasn’t saying that we should get rid of carriers,” Larter pointed out. “Indeed, he said we need to keep investing in them, but that adversaries understand that system.” Still, it’s worth pointing out the problems in Griffin’s notion of swapping flattops for thousands of hypersonic missiles.

Larter cited “missile enthusiast” Tom Karako from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Karako “raised the very excellent point that you will likely need airborne sensors to target these things in the future,” Larter explained.

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