In October of last year, US intelligence revealed that China had successfully launched a hypersonic missile. The United States was shaken out of its complacency in 1957 with the Soviet launch of an earth-orbiting satellite, which was regarded as “quite near to a Sputnik” event.
It didn’t cause the same alarm level as Sputnik, but it served as a major wake-up call for the defense establishment. This time, the shock was caused by the Chinese missile’s surprising ability to orbit the planet.
“There is an arms race,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated, “not necessarily for more numbers, but for increased quality.” While the US has concentrated its resources on Iraq and Afghanistan, Kendall believes it has lost sight of hypersonic weapons. Kendall intends to raise revenue by retiring older and more expensive-to-maintain technologies when the Pentagon enters the 2023 yearly budget cycle.
Last month, a test of a hypersonic glide weapon in Alaska failed when the booster rocket was unable to behave as expected. The United States successfully tested a booster motor on the ground in Utah late last month. If all goes according to plan, the whole system might be ready for testing late next year.
Moreover, Secretary of Defense James B. Kendall will have to fight Congress to have the A-10 and C-130 retired since both planes have supporters in Congress. The Pentagon wants military contractors to lower the final cost of hypersonic weapons, as the next generation of super-fast missiles is now costing tens of millions of dollars each unit.
Developing technology to detect and disable hypersonic weapons might be more beneficial to the US than developing an offensive system incorporated into existing missile defense programs. Constructing a high-tech anti-hypersonic weapon system will undoubtedly be less expensive than developing an offensive weapon system, but it will also be less successful in destroying them.