TODAY -

Hypersonic missiles: A game changer

Aribam Uttam Sharma *



China stunned the United States by completing a new hypersonic missile test in July 2021 and August 2021. Some top US military officials have warned that a large number of Chinese missiles may reach the US by sneaking past the country’s numerous layers of missile defence system.

Once upon a time, the United States was the leader in hypersonic technology, but Russia and China have already well exceeded it. The United States currently does not have any hypersonic missiles in service, however, there are many hypersonic development programs underway.

What exactly are hypersonic missiles and why are they so special?

A hypersonic missile travels at least five times the speed of sound (at least Mach 5). Hypersonic missiles are very fast, highly manoeuvrable, and fly at low altitudes, rendering any existing missile defence system incapable of identifying and destroying them. However, Russia claimed that its newly developed S-500 missile defence system can track down and destroy any incoming hypersonic missile but it is entirely a different story.

Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs), which operate similarly to existing subsonic cruise missiles and are sustained by aerodynamic lift, and Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HCVs), which are launched on a ballistic missile but released to quickly re-enter the atmosphere in order to “glide” at a flatter trajectory to their target, are two types of hypersonic weapons currently in development.

During flight, both types of vehicles may be moved, and their goals and trajectory can be changed. A hypersonic missile has enough kinetic energy to destroy several targets without the need of an explosive warhead, and it, like other missiles, may carry either a nuclear or conventional payload. Most countries sought to obtain hypersonic missiles because they are unstoppable.

Any country with hypersonic missiles shifted the balance of power in its favour. A state’s possession of a hypersonic weapon sends a powerful signal to its foe. The world has entered a new phase of information warfare, in which countries demonstrate their muscles rather than employing them. The presence of hypersonic missiles serves as a deterrent and contributes greatly to a state’s national security.

A hypersonic missile may strike its target in a matter of seconds, causing crisis instability on a regional and global scale. Crisis instability is described as “the circumstance that emerges when either commander feels pressured to attack first due to emotion, uncertainty, miscalculation, misinterpretation, or the posture of forces to avoid the worst consequences of suffering a first strike.”

The race for hypersonic missile technology.

Countries like the United States, Russia, China, India, France, the United Kingdom, and North Korea are racing to develop hypersonic technology. A number of hypersonic platforms are presently under development for a variety of purposes, but among America’s opponents, the most pressing uses of hypersonics include Russia’s nuclear-tipped Avanguard missiles and Zircon cruise missiles, as well as China’s DF-ZF hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

China initially tested the WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle in January 2014, and China has successfully undertaken a series of hypersonic missile tests. President Vladimir Putin has boasted even more about Russia’s hypersonic missile development programme. North Korea claimed to have launched its first hypersonic missile, the Hwasong-8 missile, capable of carrying a nuclear payload on September 28, 2021.

According to a recent Congressional Research Service study, France, Germany, Australia, India, and Japan are working on hypersonics, and Iran, Israel, and South Korea have undertaken fundamental research on the technology (CRS).

What is India’s position regarding hypersonic missile technology?

India is one of just a few countries working on hypersonic missile technology. In June 2019 and September 2020, India successfully tested its hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle, which speeds at mach 6. India is also working with Russia on the development of the Brahmos II, a mach 7 hypersonic cruise missile.

The Brahmos II was supposed to be completed in 2017, but due to considerable delays, it is currently expected to acquire first operational capability between 2025 and 2028. India requires hypersonic missiles as soon as possible to act as a deterrence against an aggressive China. According to CRS study, India is capable of developing a hypersonic missile capable of travelling at speeds of up to 13 Mach.

The latest delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system would fortify Indian airspace against any incoming enemy fighter aircraft or ballistic missile. According to reports, India will negotiate the purchase of Russian S-500 and S-550 missile defence systems with Russia during Putin’s planned visit to India.

Russia asserted that its cutting edge S-500 and S-550 missile defence systems can identify and shoot down any approaching hypersonic cruise missile. Concerning India’s national security, the country is already developing hypersonic missiles, but it also has to create its own missile defence system capable of detecting and destroying enemy hypersonic missiles.

The Indian government must take a more proactive stance against its strong adversary, China, rather than its traditional reactive stance.


* Aribam Uttam Sharma wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 10 2021.



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