“Although Russia has conducted research on hypersonic weapons technology since the 1980s, it accelerated its efforts in response to U.S. missile defense deployments in both the United States and Europe, and in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001,” the report said.
The report continues: “Detailing Russia’s concerns, President Putin stated that “the US is permitting constant, uncontrolled growth of the number of anti-ballistic missiles, improving their quality, and creating new missile launching areas. If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential. Meaning that all of our missiles could simply be intercepted.”
The report further explains that “Russia thus seeks hypersonic weapons, which can maneuver as they approach their targets, as an assured means of penetrating U.S. missile defenses and restoring its sense of strategic stability.”
Perhaps the more significant challenge to U.S. missile dominance comes not from Russia but from China.
“According to Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, ‘most experts argue that the most important reason to prioritize hypersonic technology development [in China] is the necessity to counter specific security threats from increasingly sophisticated U.S. military technology,’ such as U.S. missile defenses,” the report explains.
“In particular, China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons, like Russia’s, reflects a concern that U.S. hypersonic weapons could enable the United States to conduct a preemptive, decapitating strike on China’s nuclear arsenal and supporting infrastructure. U.S. missile defense deployments could then limit China’s ability to conduct a retaliatory strike against the United States.”
Although the United States has several hypersonic weapon programs in development, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not set any programs of record. This indicates the DOD may not have specified specific hypersonic weapon requirements and that long-term funding for hypersonic weapon projects may also be uncertain.
One obstacle to hypersonic weapon development could be their cost—there are intense engineering hurdles that need to be surmounted and hypersonic weapon development may simply be too expensive. So, rather than stockpiling hypersonic weapons en masse, the United States may ultimately decide to retain smaller weapon stocks and treat the missiles as strategic weapons rather than as replacements for current armaments.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson