and have recently touted their progress in developing hypersonic vehicles, which fly much faster than the speed of sound, which is 767 mph. Hypersonic missiles are rocket-boosted to high altitude and may be launched from land, sea or air. They fly far faster than any other weapons – more than 3,000 mph and potentially – which makes them difficult to identify, avoid or shoot down. After leading the development of this technology area for decades, the US finds itself behind and investing heavily in the technology to try to keep up.
I am a at the University of Michigan, and one of my primary research areas is in the development of computational models to help design hypersonic vehicles. The research is funded by the government and private industry. I have led studies on hypersonics for the government.
Over the past 60 years, US interest in hypersonic vehicles has waxed and waned. An early success was the with a maximum speed of 4,500 mph that was flown from 1959 to 1968. The X-15 flew 199 times and only experienced two failures, of which one resulted in the death of the pilot. It set the stage for the development of the , which flew from 1981 to 2011. The next ramp-up in hypersonic activity was the Program, from 1986 to 1993, which never built a prototype.
A recent success was the X-51A, from 2005 to 2013, which set for sustained flight of a hypersonic vehicle powered by a high-speed propulsion engine called a . However, there were only four flights, of which flights and were not fully successful. In addition, there were no plans in place for any follow-on at the end of the X-51A program.
Now it seems the US is back in the hypersonic effort in a serious way. The Pentagon has declared hypersonics to be its . The president’s recent budget request proposes allocating to develop hypersonic weapons and defence systems against potential adversaries’ hypersonic weapons.
The Race for Hypersonic Supremacy
China and Russia have become increasingly interested in hypersonic weapons in recent years. Since 2005, at a key hypersonics conference than any other country or international group. The Chinese have invested in a number of new and impressive . And, China has conducted more recently than the US.
It’s not yet clear when those countries will be able to deploy hypersonic weapons in any significant numbers, which is why the US has seized upon this moment to step up its efforts. The recent presidential for weapons development signal efforts to figure out how to deploy hypersonic weapons from air, sea and land.
Need for a Good Defence
Most of the US spending appears to be aimed at developing new weapons – but that risks ignoring the key priority of defence. To counter Chinese and Russian development efforts, the Pentagon will need to invest in ways to detect, track and disable or destroy incoming hypersonic weapons.
It is not clear if the types of interceptors that have been developed for defense against slower weapons will be effective against hypersonic missiles. Entirely novel approaches may be needed to defeat this new threat. Examples include and beams of electromagnetic energy.
I believe that to avoid an important gap in US defensive capabilities, American efforts in defence must at least keep up with the progress of other nations in developing hypersonic weapons.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
. Read more on World by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsCaster Semenya’s Case Reflects Broader Dilemmas Facing World Sport . Read more on World by The Quint.