US, Russia and China are in race for Hypersonic Weapons that shall revolutionize warfare by providing prompt global strike capability and defeat all missile defences. Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 or 6,125 kilometers per hour) or more. Flying along the edge of space while gliding and maneuvering these missiles would strike targets with unprecedented speed and precision.
Brad Leland, Lockheed’s program manager for Hypersonics makes the case for the jet on the company’s website, stating: “Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour… Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.” Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.
The United States and Australia have concluded a series of hypersonic test flights at the Woomera test range in South Australia. The tests were conducted under the auspices of the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFIRE) programme, says Australia’s Department of Defence in a statement. In the statement, defence minister Marise Payne said that the tests have achieved “significant milestones, including design assembly, and pre-flight testing of the hypersonic vehicles and design of complex avionics and control systems.” US intends to develop a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile by 2018-2020, and a hypersonic aircraft by 2030. Australia and other countries are also developing hypersonic weapons.
Recently China tested DF-17 its first hypersonic glide vehicle-equipped missile intended for operational deployment. Chinese DF-ZF (previously designated as the WU-14) is a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle that has been flight-tested by the Chinese seven times, on 9 January, 7 August and 2 December 2014; 7 June and 27 November 2015; and again in April 2016. The strategic strike weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,231.01kph. Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions.
DF-ZF could be used for nuclear weapons delivery but could also be used to perform precision-strike conventional missions (for example, next-generation anti-ship ballistic missiles), which could penetrate “the layered air defenses of a U.S. carrier strike group. Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.
The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in its latest annual report that the China’s hypersonic glide vehicle program is “progressing rapidly” and the weapon could be deployed by 2020. China also is building a powered version of the high-speed vehicle that could be fielded by 2025.
Russia already successfully tested the Yu-71 hypersonic glider several times and will deploy a regiment of them armed with nuclear warheads by 2020, according to US sources. According to multiple reports, Russia is expected to begin production soon of its 3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic missile that will travel 4,600 miles per hour — five times the speed of sound — and will have a range of 250 miles. That’s just three minutes and 15 seconds from launch to impact. Guided hypersonic missiles will be more accurate than traditional ballistic missiles and could conceivably be armed with nuclear warheads, according to the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.
Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds—five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond—offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance. While US wants to develop strike targets at any location on earth within one hour using conventional warheads, China and Russia are aiming to defeat US missile defence system.
Hypersonic weapons can be Tactical Boost-Glide type, the approach already tested by both Russia and China: a rocket motor boosts the missile up to hypersonic speed, after which it glides to the target. The goal is to “skip” off the atmosphere like a skipping stone over water, allowing it to go vast distances at extreme speeds. Getting this to work requires progress in aerodynamics, stability, and controls, as well as materials, Bussing said. 3D printing can help in all these areas.
An “air-breathing” hypersonic vehicle, by contrast, flies under its own jet power the whole way. This approach allows less range than boost-glide but greater maneuverability. Air-breathers can also be significantly smaller. A rocket has to carry large amounts of oxidizer to burn its fuel. A jet just sucks in oxygen from the atmosphere. But normal jets don’t have to suck in air moving at Mach 5-plus. A jet that works at hypersonic speeds will require some breakthroughs — and, again, 3D printing can help grow the exotic components.
China developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies
Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a U.S. military program to develop weapons—mainly missiles—that can strike targets at any location on earth within one hour using conventional warheads. Some analysts have argued that, if the United States were to launch these missiles during a conflict, nations with minimal satellite capabilities and launch notification systems (such as China) or degraded launch notification systems (such as Russia) could conclude that they were under attack with nuclear missiles.
China fears the system will be used to knock out its nuclear missiles on the ground in the early stages of a conflict. According to Saalman, “Chinese analysts view PGS as part of a larger U.S. effort to achieve ‘absolute security,’ with BMD as the shield and PGS as the sword.
China is conducting substantial research into both countering and developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies, with the DF-21D and WU-14 weapon systems as just two recent examples, according Dr. Lora Saalman, Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
DF-17: China’s Newly Tested Ballistic Missile Armed With a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle
According to a U.S. government source who described recent intelligence assessments on the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) on the condition of anonymity, China recently conducted two tests of a new missile known as the DF-17 that is equipped with a “hypersonic glide vehicle” (HGV). The first test took place on November 1 and the second test took place on November 15.
HGVs are capsules on the top of a missile that hold the payload. They break apart from the main body of the projectile after it has reached its highest altitude, and glide to the target until impact.
The source said that the DF-17 was a medium-range missile system that had a range between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers. It is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional payloads, and may be able to be configured to have a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV.
Hypersonic gliders, by virtue of their low-altitude flight, are difficult to detect with existing missile defence radars, hence gives less time for interception . However HGVs are considerably slower in the final stages of their flight than most reentry vehicles on a ballistic trajectory to take place before the payload can reach its target. This may leave them vulnerable to interception by advanced terminal point defense systems.
DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, which the US calls Wu-14
Beijing for the seventh time successfully flight-tested its DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, which the US calls Wu-14, at the Wuzhai missile test range in the central portion of China. The strategic strike weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,231.01kph. The six previous tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 also having been successful. Glide vehicles are lifted to the high upper atmosphere by ballistic missiles and then glide at speeds five times faster than the speed of sound
Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions. “At a minimum this latest test indicates China is likely succeeding in achieving a key design objective: building a warhead capable of withstanding the very high stress of hypersonic maneuvering,” Rick Fisher, a China military expert, told the WFB. “It is likely that the test vehicle will form the basis for a missile launched weapon.”
“The Wu-14 is designed to penetrate US missile defense systems, meaning the PLA is capable of defending China’s territorial sovereignty. But such a test is only a nuclear deterrent. Neither China nor the US wants to declare war over the South China Sea issues,” said Professor He Qisong, a defense policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
Analysts suspect that the WU-14 will first be used in shorter-range roles as an anti-ship missile. China has already believed to have developed advanced capabilities for precision ASBM strike against U.S. aircraft carriers and other naval forces operating in the western Pacific, at ranges between 1,500 and 2,000km, under its sea-denial strategy.
China is also believed to be developing capability on an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) variant that adopts a boost-glide for long range precision strikes – at least out to 8,000km – against a broad range of targets, including ships at sea.
The National Air and Space Intelligence Center has testified to Congress that China’s hypersonic glide vehicle will be used to deliver nuclear weapons. A variant also could be used as part of China’s conventionally-armed anti-ship ballistic missile system, which is aimed at sinking U.S. aircraft carriers far from Chinese shores.
China’s commercial Jilin satellite system also indicates the emergence of China’s Prompt Global Strike (PGS) capabilities.
The Jilin-1 group of satellites consists of 4 satellites: one 450-kg major satellite with a resolution ratio of 0.72 metres, two dexterous image taking satellites with a resolution ratio of 1.3 metres and one checking satellite with dexterous image taking. Chinese sources say that by 2030 there will be 138 satellites in the Jilin satellite system with a return visit speed of 10 minutes.
It is expected that the satellites will become smaller with higher resolution. The PLA will use that satellite system to help its intercontinental PGS system update its targets.
“China’s hypersonic weapons development program is probably less developed than the American program, but China might be able to develop its program more quickly,” said James Acton of the Nuclear Policy Program and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
US hypersonic technology programs
US government agencies are developing hypersonic technology for short-term and long-term goals. The near-term goals are hypersonic weapons that are expected to mature in the early 2020s and unmanned surveillance aircraft in the late 2020s or early 2030s, with hypersonic vehicles to follow in the longer term. Air-breathing access to space is a much longer-term goal. The general development strategy is to start small with weapons and to then scale up to aircraft and space vehicles as the technology and materials mature, reports Janes.
Raytheon has been awarded a USD 174 million contract for work on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme, according to a 28 October Pentagon announcement. USD3.4 million of the cost-plus-fixed-fee deal was awarded, according to the announcement. HAWC is a joint project with the US Air Force (USAF) to “develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile”, according to DARPA.
Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are both working on HAWC projects. The latter is also working on DARPA’s Tactical Boost-Glide (TBG) programme. Both HAWC and TBG are feeding into the USAF’s High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) effort, which the service intends to demonstrate around 2020.
Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, as they will be able to avoid detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception. “The very high speeds of these weapons, combined with their maneuverability and ability to travel at lower, radar-evading altitudes, would make them far less vulnerable than existing missiles to current missile defenses,” the commission stated.
These developments threaten the U.S.’s strategic missile defense technology to be obsolete before its fully deployed, on which US has spent more than $100 billion, according to 2011 Arms Control Association report. Some nonproliferation scientists, have expressed the doubts that they may carry Nuclear weapons as well.
US Prompt Global Strike (PGS)
Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a U.S. military program to develop weapons—mainly missiles—that can strike targets at any location on earth within one hour using conventional warheads. This capability may bolster U.S. efforts to deter and defeat adversaries by allowing the United States to attack high-value targets or “fleeting targets” at the start of or during a conflict.
The 2006 QDR noted the need for prompt global strike capabilities to provide the United States with the ability “to attack fixed, hard and deeply buried, mobile and re-locatable targets with improved accuracy anywhere in the world promptly upon the President’s order. The 2010 QDR also noted that “enhanced long-range strike capabilities are one means of countering growing threats to forward deployed forces and bases and ensuring U.S. power projection capabilities.”
In 2003, the Air Force and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) initiated a program, known as FALCON (force application and launch from continental United States) that was designed to develop both a launch vehicle similar to a ballistic missile and a hypersonic reentry vehicle, known as the common aero vehicle (CAV) that, together, would provide the United States with the ability to meet the requirements of the prompt global strike mission.
US is funding several hypersonic programs: Lockheed Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, Air Force’s Force Application and Launch from Continental United States, known as FALCON, Raytheon Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), and the Raytheon/Lockheed Tactical Boost Glide. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency gave Raytheon $20 million and Lockheed $24 million for the latter.
DARPA indicated that the goal for the HTV-2 program is to develop a vehicle that can launch into the Earth’s upper atmosphere and descend across the Pacific Ocean with speeds of more than 13,000 miles per hour. It should be able to travel from Vandenberg Air Force Base to a target near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 30 minutes.
The Army is also developing a hypersonic glide vehicle, known as the advanced hypersonic weapon (AHW). Like the HTV-2, the AHW would use a hypersonic glider to deliver a conventional payload, but could be deployed on a booster with a shorter range than HTV-2 and, therefore, may need to be deployed forward, on land or at sea.
The Army conducted a successful flight test of the AHW on November 17, 2011. The system launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, and used the strategic targets system (STARS) booster stack, which is derived from the Navy’s Polaris ballistic missile. According to press reports, the vehicle traveled 2,400 miles, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii to Kwajalein Atoll. The test collected data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance. The mission also tested the thermal protection technologies for the vehicle, an area where concerns exist because of the high temperatures generated during flight.
DARPA’s Tactical Boost Glide (TBG)
The Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that aims to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems. In a boost glide system, a rocket accelerates its payload to high speeds. The payload then separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.
The boost-glide hypersonic weapons would offer certain unique attributes to military planners. Compared to ballistic missiles, boost-glide weapons have potentially 5 to 10 times the speed of sound, nearly double the range, can generally transport a heavier payload over a given range, are capable of midcourse maneuvering, and fly at lower altitudes.
The TBG program plans to focus on three primary objectives:
- Vehicle Feasibility—Vehicle concepts possessing the required aerodynamic and aerothermal performance, controllability and robustness for a wide operational envelope
- Effectiveness—System attributes and subsystems required to be effective in relevant operational environments
- Affordability—Approaches to reducing cost and increasing value for both the demonstration system and future operational systems
DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme
Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds—five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond—offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance.
The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile. These demonstrations seek to open the door to new, responsive long-range strike capabilities against time-critical or heavily defended targets. The program intends to emphasize efficient, rapid and affordable flight tests to validate key technologies.
HAWC plans to pursue flight demonstrations to address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars—air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability. Technologies of interest include:
- Advanced air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight
- Hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise
- Approaches to managing the thermal stresses of high-temperature cruise
- Affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches
- HAWC technologies could also extend to future reusable hypersonic air platforms for applications such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and space access.
Russia developing several air- and sea-launched hypersonic missiles
Russia is reportedly developing several hypersonic weapons systems, including air- and sea-launched missiles.
According to analytical website Ostkraft.ru, this year Russia successfully tested its experimental Yu-74 hypersonic glide vehicle. The Yu-74 was carried by the intercontinental-range RS-18A (NATO codename: SS-19 Stiletto) ballistic missile system. The glider was launched from the Dombarovsky missile base in the Orenburg region and hit a target located at Kura Missile Test Range in northern Kamchatka region, the Russian Far East. Russia’s new Yu-74 ultra-maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicles may become yet another response to the deployment of NATO’s missile installations in Eastern Europe, according to analytical website Ostkraft, says Sputnik.
Last year Russia conducted a series of tests of the Yu-71 hypersonic attack aircraft. The Yu-71 is part of secret missile program codenamed “Project 4202.” The glider was said to reach speeds of up to 7,000 miles per hour. Due to its outstanding maneuverability and high speed the system can overcome any defense shield, Ostkraft noted.
Russia tested a hypersonic missile in February 2015, WFB reported. According to military experts in the United States, Russia is testing a new hypersonic attack aircraft, the Yu-71 that reportedly has the capability to carry nuclear warheads that can penetrate missile defence systems. It has also been suggested that Russia is particularly working on devloping episodic weapons systems that can be launched by both land and sea-based means.
Russia has also testing its hypersonic cruise missile “Zircon”, which is expected to be put into mass production in 2018, as reported by Tass source in the Russian military-industrial complex. Settings “zircon” remain secret. Open sources report that the range of the new missile can reach up to 400 kilometers, and its flying speed will exceed the speed of sound in five or six times.
The hypersonic missile—which is a component of the 3K22 Zircon system—will be incorporated into the nuclear-powered Project 11442 Orlan-class battlecruiser (NATO: Kirov-class) Pyotr Veliky when it completes its overhaul in late 2022, as reported by Dave Majumdar. “The Admiral Nakhimov heavy missile cruiser’s deep modernization envisages the replacement of the warship’s missile strike system. As a result, the vessel will get the Zircon hypersonic missiles,” a source told TASS.
The Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy is developing a hypersonic strategic bomber capable of striking with nuclear warheads from outer space, Lt. Col. Aleksei Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti. A trial model of Russia’s nuclear-capable outer space strategic bomber will be developed by 2020, according to its developer. The jet will be very capable and will need only one-two hours to reach any place on Earth through outer space.
Russian commander of the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF), Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, had earlier reported that the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy has already developed and tested an engine for the experimental aircraft.
“The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace. Upon command it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base,” Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti.
Called the PAK-DA strategic bomber, the hypersonic aircraft – which will be invisible to radar – will be armed with a special hybrid Turbofan engine, making it capable of low-level space flight. The bomber will burn traditional kerosene fuel when flying inside the earth’s atmosphere. However, once in space, the engine switches to methane and oxygen which allows the PAK-DA to fly without air.
“We are cooperating with Russia’s Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute on the design of an airframe and the aircraft’s characteristics. I think that its lift-off mass must be 20-25 metric tons for it to be a strike aircraft. It will [be able to accelerate to] hypersonic speed in rocket mode,” he added.
Russia is also developing the P-800 Onyx, which some experts suspect could be a hypersonic missile as well. “It could be a fundamentally new missile, possibly hypersonic”. Russian officials have said their hypersonic arms development is aimed to penetrate U.S. missile defenses.
Army General Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy minister of defense, told reporters that the ministry has developed a special new fuel to enable missiles to fly at hypersonic speeds.
India and Russia developing hypersonic cruise missiles
Unlike the U.S. and China, both of whom focus their hypersonic development efforts on boost-glide vehicles, Russia and India are seeking to build hypersonic cruise missiles. NPO Mashinostroeyenia, is collaborating with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to develop BrahMos-II or or BrahMos Mark II, a hypersonic cruise missile expected to have a range of 290 kilometres (180 mi) and a speed of Mach 7, expected to be ready for testing by 2017.
According to the company’s website, the BrahMos-II will be powered by a scramjet engine instead of a ramjet one. “As a variation of the ramjet,” the company explains, “scramjets allow combustion to occur in a supersonic airflow, thereby expanding the operating range above Mach 4.”
Traditional Missile Defense Obsolete
Ballistic missile defense systems based on velocity and trajectory of a ballistic missile path use mathematical algorithms to determine interception points to accurately guide an intercepting missile. The predictable ballistic trajectory of ballistic missiles makes them vulnerable to land and naval-based interceptor missiles,
The Hypersonic glide vehicle defeats this logic by not traveling in a predictable ballistic path. It is launched like a ballistic missile, but it stays within the atmosphere skipping and gliding irregularly across thin air before going downward hypersonically into a highly maneuverable and evasive path before striking its target.
The high maneuverability and the hypersonic speed make it very difficult to be intercepted by exo-atmospheric kill vehicles as well as lessens the time it can be detected, fired at, or reengaged if there is a miss.
This development threatens the U.S.’s strategic missile defense technology to be obsolete before its fully deployed, on which US has spent more than $100 billion, according to 2011 Arms Control Association report.