US Foreign Policy

Hypersonic weapons could create new arms race

in Program

By Lt. Col. Jeff Schreiner: 

With nuclear technology the adage that “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle” is widely used. What if we are standing at the threshold of a technology that we could keep in the bottle before it runs amok in the international system? The recent failure of the U.S. Advanced Hypersonic Weapon test on the heels of an unsuccessful Chinese test of their WU-14 vehicle provides the world a chance to reflect on this technology and its possible strategic implications.

For those new to the debate, hypersonic weapons are essentially designed as either a super-fast cruise missile, like the United States’ X-51 Waverider test program, or a “boost-glide” platform, used on the two recent test failures. Speeds ranging from Mach 5 to Mach 10, roughly 4,000 to 8,000 mph, are considered consistent with hypersonic designation. This nascent technology is being designed for weaponization. Currently Russia, China, the U.S. and India all have hypersonic vehicles in various stages of development. The United States should carefully consider whether the tactical value is worth the strategic risks, especially once it’s married to nuclear weapons.

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Photo credit: Official U.S. Air Force via Flickr

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