US Boosts Spending on Anti-Hypersonic Missile Defenses

By | Jun 05, 2017 07:36 PM EDT
Fast and furious

Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle

The United States plans to spend more on advanced systems that defends against the growing threat from Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles.

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The U.S. leads the world in developing hypersonic missiles or hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) but only recently started pouring in more money to defend against similar weapons being developed by Russia and China.

The Russian version is the Yu-71, a maneuvering HGV that can accelerate to speeds between Mach 7 and Mach 12. Russia claims Yu-71's maneuverability will allow it to overcome any existing or prospective U.S. anti-missile defense.

Russia military analysts surmise that if Russia can develop a Yu-71 into a Mach 12 boost and glide HGV, state-of-the-art U.S. anti-missile defense systems will be impotent against it.

Russian sources said tests of Project 4202, of which Yu-71 is a part, are being carried out using obsolete RS-18B Stiletto ICBMs that boost the HGVs in flight.

Once Project 4202 becomes operational, it will arm the RS-28 Sarmat as and future versions of this ICBM. These improved Sarmats are expected to appear from 2020 through 2025. Russia plans to first produce 20 Yu-71s.

The Chinese version is the WU-14, now called DF-ZF.  This HGV has been flight-tested by the Chinese seven times from January 2014 to April 2016. Six of these tests are known to have been successful.

China seems to prefer using the DF-ZF as a precision-strike weapon on its ballistic missiles to penetrate the sophisticated layered air defenses of U.S. Navy carrier strike groups. DF-ZF, however, can also be nuclear armed.

Reports say the DF-ZF might be capable of speeds between Mach 5 (6,100 km/h) and Mach 10 (12,400 km/h). Experts say the DF-ZF is dangerous since it will almost be impossible to intercept by conventional missile defense systems that track incoming objects using satellite sensors and ground and sea radar.

An HGV travels above Mach 5.0 (6,174 km/h) to Mach 10 (12,348 km/h) or 1,715 m/s to 3,430 m/s.

Admiral Harry Harris, Commander, United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), worries about the threat hypersonic weapons or HGVs pose to U.S. Navy warships that might have only minutes to respond to an HGV attack.

"I'm concerned about Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons development, and I expressed those concerns in the right places," said Adm. Harris.

"What we can do is to develop our own hypersonic weapons and improve our defenses against theirs," he said.

It was revealed the U.S. is developing systems to counter HGVs.

The administration in its fiscal 2018 budget submission to Congress last month requested $75 million for "hypersonic defense" as part of $7.9 billion overall funding plan for missile defenses.

"These weapons present an entirely new capability we must counter as they are specifically designed to exploit the gaps and the seams in our existing missile defense architecture, thus defeating the systems we currently have in place," said Rep. Trent Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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