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Russia, China eclipse US in hypersonic missiles

Public Policy

Russia and China are outpacing the United States in the development of super-fast missile technology, Pentagon officials and key lawmakers are warning.

Russia says it successfully tested a so-called hypersonic missile this month, while China tested a similar system last year expected to enter service soon.

“Right now, we’re helpless,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in advocating for more investment in hypersonics, along with missile defense.

Hypersonics are generally defined as missiles that can fly more than five times the speed of sound.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, last week described a hypersonic as a missile that starts out “like a ballistic missile, but then it depresses the trajectory and then flies more like a cruise missile or an airplane. So it goes up into the low reaches of space, and then turns immediately back down and then levels out and flies at a very high level of speed.”

In November, China reportedly conducted two tests of a ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle that U.S. assessments expect to reach initial operating capability around 2020. The country had already conducted at least seven tests of experimental systems from 2014 to 2016.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a flashy state of the nation address to tout a slate of new weapons, including a hypersonic missile he claimed was “invincible” against U.S. missile defenses. About a week later, Russia claimed it successfully tested a hypersonic.

At the time of Putin’s announcement, the Pentagon said it was “not surprised” by the report and assured the public that it is “fully prepared” to respond to such a threat.

But in congressional testimony last week, Hyten conceded U.S. missile defense cannot stop hypersonics. He said that the U.S. is instead relying on nuclear deterrence, or the threat of a retaliatory U.S. strike, as its defense against such missiles.

“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

To bolster missile defenses against hypersonics, Hyten advocated space-based sensors.

“I believe we need to pursue improved sensor capabilities to be able to track, characterize and attribute the threats, wherever they come from,” he said. “And, right now, we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and the limited number of radars that we have around the world. In order to see those threats, I believe we need a new space sensor architecture.”

Asked if the U.S. is really falling behind Russia and China on hypersonics, Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said flatly: “Yes.”

“And the reason is the U.S. hasn’t been doing anything near the same pace both in terms of developing our own capabilities but also failing to develop sensors and shooters necessary to shoot down theirs,” he continued.

Terrestrial sensors are limited in their ability because of the curvature of the earth, Karako said, but “you can’t hide from a robust constellation of space-based sensors.”

Yet while the last five administrations have identified space-based sensors as a critical need on paper, nothing has come to fruition, he said.

“One of the reasons that we haven’t prioritized the hypersonic threat is we were slow to kind of appreciate not merely the Russia and China problem, but the Russia and China missile problem,” Karako said.

In that regard, he credited the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, both of which were unveiled by the Trump administration earlier this year, for their renewed focus on a “great power competition” with Russia and China.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, likewise cited them as helping the U.S. get back on track in the area of hypersonics.

“I think we are aware of the capabilities that our adversaries have, and … whether it’s the Nuclear Posture Review, National Defense Strategy, these are all laid out because of the identification of the threats we have,” she said.

Fischer added that there “probably will be” something about hypersonics in her subcommittee’s portion of this year’s annual defense policy bill.

But the Nuclear Posture Review, in particular, has been controversial for its call to develop a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile and a “low yield” warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Those new capabilities are part of the deterrence that Hyten cited, but critics say the document is poised to fuel an arms race.

“Calling for the addition of new weapons and weapons capabilities to our arsenal and expanding the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy imposes significant economic burdens and undermines decades of United States leadership to prevent the use and spread of nuclear weapons,” more than 40 House Democrats, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Mike Quigley (Ill.), wrote Monday in a letter to President Trump. 

“We oppose this approach and will continue to support maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent without wasting taxpayer dollars, inciting a new arms race or risking nuclear conflict,” they said.

In addition to the nuclear review, Pentagon officials have been touting budget proposals that would put more money toward hypersonics and missile defense that they say will help close the gap with Russia and China.

Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there’s $42 million in the fiscal year 2019 budget for the Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency to work on a prototype for space-based sensors.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, meanwhile, told the House Armed Services Committee last week her fiscal 2019 budget includes $258 million for hypersonics.

And Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Steven Walker touted his $256.7 million fiscal 2019 budget for hypersonic missile development the same day as Putin’s press conference. Still, he said, DARPA needs more money for infrastructure to test the missiles, as most of the agency’s testing is done out of one facility.

“The dollars that were allocated in this budget were great, but they were really focused on adding more flight tests and getting some of our offensive capability further down the line into operational prototypes,” he told the Defense Writers Group. “We do need an infusion of dollars in our infrastructure to do hypersonics.”

Inhofe, the senator from Oklahoma, said he’s most worried about the missile defense issue, adding there “appears to be no defense” against hypersonics. To him, the answer is reversing defense budget cuts, which Congress has taken steps to do in a two-year budget deal and a recently passed appropriations bill for fiscal 2018.

“We need to make up the losses that we had during the Obama administration by putting a priority, which we are doing now, on the military,” he said.

The Hill

169 Comments on "Russia, China eclipse US in hypersonic missiles"

  1. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:05 pm 

    Us oil imports haven’t changed since 2012..Looks like the EIA has fooled imbeciles like Boat! LOL

  2. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:20 pm 


    Reality is not anti science or denial. You said among dozens of links that we’ll have an oil shortage and collaspe would happen by the end of 2018. After I prove your wrong we’ll access 2019. It’s fun to be right. I have a running history of being right.

  3. Anonymous on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:25 pm 

    US imports are flat, but US exports are up. This means net imports are down.

  4. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:47 pm 


    I never said we would collapse by 2018…LOL I have said the same thing a million times. Within the next decade…Show me where i said 2018 and prove it you cocksucker! LOL

  5. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:48 pm 


    Here is the chart.

  6. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:49 pm 

    Who is the pig who just got slaughtered.

  7. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:51 pm 


    Former head of EIA

    2020s To Be A Decade of Disorder For Oil

    The global economy is toast! Prepare for anarchy!

  8. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:52 pm 

    And there is air. No shyt shirlock.

  9. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:53 pm 

    Coal cannot work without crude, crude cannot work without coal, natural gas cannot work
    without both oil and coal, Shale oil cannot work without any of those, and so on…

    It will take 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels a day in
    North Dakota’s Bakken shale, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Iraq could do the same with 60. Ultra-light oil makes poor-quality gasoline that has to be
    put through an additional process (and cost) called catalytic reforming that boosts octane
    to sales specifications. And most crucial is that this light oil lacks the middle distillates needed to produce diesel and jet fuel. Those are the three biggest refined
    product markets so ultra-light oil has a lot going against it. As you can see, it is a complex problem. It reflects the fundamental
    premise of Peak Oil—namely, that we have run out of cheap oil.

  10. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:55 pm 

    Declining conventional oil will be the final nail in the coffin.
    Because they won’t able to do anything about it..

  11. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 9:56 pm 

    Oil discoveries in 2017 hit all-time low –Houston Chronicle

    IEA Chief warns of world oil shortages by 2020 as discoveries fall to record lows

    Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Warns of World Oil Shortages Ahead

    Saudi Aramco CEO sees oil supply shortage coming as investments, discoveries drop

    UAE warns of world oil shortages ahead by 2020 due to industry spending cuts

    Halliburton CEO says oil will spike due to oil shortages by 2020 after Industry Cuts

    2020s To Be A Decade of Disorder For Oil

    North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director “We could have worldwide oil crisis by 2021”

    Is the World Sleepwalking Into The Next Oil Crisis?

  12. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 10:04 pm 


    But here is the tub. At some point Venz will be back. Nigeria has tons of oil along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia,Iran, Canada, US etc. Stable $60-$80 per barrel and yes by 2030 electric cars will make a meaningful dent in demand.

    There may or not be $100 oil. But if there is every dog in the show will be drilling. Up to and including taking over Venz by somebody. I vote Japan. They deserve a reward for not being

  13. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 10:06 pm 


    There is no lack of oil. There is a lack of organizational control of the oil.

  14. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 10:10 pm 

    What It’s Like to Learn You’re Going to Die utm_source=atltw

  15. MASTERMIND on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 10:14 pm 

    Here is a piece of advice, “Make a little space in your mind for the idea that things
    could go sideways. The people that think things can’t go wrong will be flipping out,
    you’ll have an advantage…

  16. Cloggie on Sat, 31st Mar 2018 10:28 am 

    Russia tests Sarmat ICBM that should replace old Soviet missiles:

    Perhaps better not attack Iran. Some friendly advice.

  17. MASTERMIND on Sat, 31st Mar 2018 10:38 am 


    Infowars? Stop scaremongering! Alex Jones is a fat ignorant blowhard! Just like you I suppose…

  18. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Apr 2018 12:50 pm 

    Location, location, location:

    Shouting match Erdogan-Natanyahu.

    Erdogan calls Natanyahu a “terrorist”, because of inter-ethnic violence in Palestine. The multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society: a never-ending tragedy.

  19. Davy on Sun, 1st Apr 2018 1:05 pm 

    “Peak Fragility: Why The Middle East Is Doomed”

    “The Mideast is doomed. Egypt alone needs to create 700,000 jobs every single year to absorb the new job seekers out its 98 million population. A third of this population already live below the poverty line (482 Egyptian Pounds a month, which is less than $1 a day). The seeds of the vicious circle that the Mideast region finds itself in today were planted at least 5 decades ago. Excessive public spending without matching revenues were the catalyst to a faulty and dangerous incentive system that helped to balloon populations beyond control. A governance system that was ostensibly put in place to help the poor ended up being a built-in factory for poverty generation. Excessive subsidies helped misallocate resources and mask the true cost of living for households. Correlation between family size and income was lost. Successive Mideast leaders are often referred to as evil dictators. I see them more as lousy economists and poor users of simple arithmetic and excel spreadsheets that can help demonstrate the simple, yet devastating power of compounding. Unless you are a Gulf-based monarchy enjoying the revenue stream from oil and gas that can postpone your day of reckoning, the numbers in nearly every single Arab country don’t add up.”

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