Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during his March 1 State of the Nation Address to his country's Federal Assembly that his nation has developed new types of strategic weapons against which there are no known defenses.
Referring to maneuverable precision hypersonic missiles that fly too high and fast to be intercepted, and to undetectable unmanned underwater vehicles that operate at extreme depths, he declared that, "Russia already possesses such weapons."
Although his bravado was dramatically staged to bolster public leadership confidence for his reelection two weeks later, a key message was also directed to global audiences, America very much included. Referring most particularly to Russia’s new hypersonic weapons, he warned, "Nobody wanted to listen to us. Well, listen to us now."
Putin’s presentation was back-dropped by a large video screen featuring an air-launched Kinzhal cruise vehicle which began trial service at airfields of Russia’s Southern Military District in December of last year. He explained, "The unique flight and technical characteristics of the high-speed aircraft-type carrier make it possible to deliver missiles to a discharge point within just minutes."
Russia’s Tass news agency reported Putin as saying, "The missile flying at hypersonic speed, 10 times faster than the speed of sound, can also maneuver at all phases of its flight trajectory, which also allows it to overcome all existing, and, I think, prospective anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, delivering nuclear and conventional warheads in a range of over 2,000 kilometers."
The Russian president also unveiled a heavy nuclear-capable intercontinental missile called the RS-28 Sarmat which NATO refers to as "Satan 2," along with its hypersonic cousin, the Avangard. According to a report by the Kremlin-aligned Sputnik news agency, Sarmat is capable of striking anywhere in the U.S., with a payload capable of wiping out a landmass "the size of Texas or France."
In addition to hypersonic weapons, Putin reported that Russia’s defense industry has also designed virtually undetectable unmanned submersible vehicles capable of covering intercontinental distances at extreme depths. He said that the vessels greatly exceed the speed of all submarines, up-to-date torpedoes, and all types of high-speed ships. Further, they have a low noise level, are highly maneuverable, and are almost invincible to an enemy.
Describing the new naval stealth weapon as "simply fantastic," he asserted that, "Technical means, which can stand against them, simply do not exist in the world today." The vehicle can enable both conventional and nuclear strikes on a variety of targets, including aerial groupings, seacoast fortifications, and infrastructure.
On the U.S. hypersonic readiness front, DefenseNews reported that America is belatedly on track to test a series of prototypes in coming years thanks to modest, incremental progress over the past three budget requests: $85.5 million in fiscal year 2017; $108.6 million in fiscal year 2018; and $256.7 million for fiscal year 2019.
The fiscal year 18 budget also provides $53 million for a cooperative project with NASA to create a hybrid engine that combines a traditional turbine engine capable of supersonic speeds with a dual-mode ramjet for transition to hypersonic velocities.
This technology may enable future manned hypersonic flight.
Hours after Putin’s address, Steven Walker, director of DARPA, the Pentagon’s hub for research, told defense writers, "We’re going to start flying these systems in 2019, you’ll see lots of flight tests, and we’re excited that these will be systems that will be very capable that we can use from standoff."
Yet even with the funding boost, Walker warned that it is time for America to come to grips with the fact that a national push is needed if the U.S. is to keep pace with hostile competitors in the hypersonic realm.
These competitors include China.
As I reported last June, the Congressional Sino-U.S. Economic and Security Review Commission said that China’s hypersonic program is "progressing rapidly," and that an advanced version may be demonstrated by 2025. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Sea Power Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., then stated, "Beijing is committed to up-ending both the conventional military and nuclear balance, with grave implications for the stability of Asia."
Even America’s top nuclear commander described a grim scenario for U.S. interceptors attempting to face off against hypersonic missile threats. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command told the senate Armed Services Committee on March 20, "We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a [hypersonic] weapon against us."
An alarming 2016 report prepared by a panel of Air Force experts concluded that U.S. hypersonic weapons progress had fallen behind Russia and China. Moreover, it criticized the Obama administration’s Pentagon leadership for having "no formal strategic operational concept or organizational sense of urgency" in developing countermeasures and defense solutions.
Let’s urgently hope that new White House leadership, supported by a more responsible Congress, will demonstrate far better sense.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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