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Defence & Aerospace

The Hyper-sonic Arms Race


An artist’s portray of the hypersonic missile by Raytheon (picture captured from The Washington Post)

‘US unable to defend against Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, report warns’ — Fox News, by quoting an official Dec 2018 report submitted to the Congress, picked the threat of hypersonic weapons among various items as the headline of its Dec 18 article.

This article says, “ … ‘China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities,’ the report said …”

The coverage of the governmental report is quite wide. “The United States faces a complex array of threats to our national security, including our political, economic, military, and social systems …” There are a total of four broad categories for 26 long-range emerging threats which range from ‘Chinese Global Expansion’, ‘Artificial Intelligence’, to ‘Internal and International Migration’ etc.

On the list of the Weapons Category, ‘Hypersonic weapons’ is ranked as the third, behind ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and ‘Electronic Warfare’. So, why did Fox News select ‘Hypersonic Warfare’ as the headline?

Perhaps, the Washington Post and the National Interest have provided the answer — money.

The former reported on Dec 21 with the title ‘Military-industrial complex finds a growth market in hypersonic weaponry’ that “… America is racing Russia and China to develop a worldwide hypersonic strike weapon that can reach anywhere in the world within hours, they said, and it’s time for American defense contractors to move from science and research to full-scale production of those systems. Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who is now the deputy secretary of defense, said, ‘This is really about industrialization, not about science.’ And Michael Griffin, a physicist who is undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said U.S. defense contractors should start preparing to churn out finished hypersonic weapons in the next few years …”

The latter is even more explicit, describing it as ‘Mach 5 Arms Race’ on Dec 30, 2018. “… The service recently awarded a second deal to Lockheed to expedite prototyping of a hypersonic weapon, called the ‘Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon,’ Air Force news reported …”

In other words, Boeing and Lockheed have already joined this big project which will cost the Pentagon lots of money. China, too, is also spending tons of banknotes on developing this kind of weaponry. “… A report in Popular Mechanics sites Chinese State Media as having announced a successful test of a new ‘wave-rider’ hypersonic vehicle. ‘The hypersonic vehicle that detached from the booster rocket flew for 400 seconds, achieving a maximum speed of Mach 5.5 to 6 (4,200 to 4,600 miles an hour) and reaching an altitude of 100,000 feet,’ the reports says …”

Although the real-life concern is the vulnerability of the USS battleships in the South China Sea, the more realistic dynamic is that both sides will tend to use this hyper-speed weapon to deter each other rather than bombard a military target actually. The risk of direct combat is extremely low (but a proxy war’s risk is high). Therefore, what is the most important is still money. President Reagan used ‘Star War arms race’ to bankrupt the USSR in the late 20th century, and we are going to watch whether anyone may bankrupt in this new arms race in our 21st century.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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