US Senators Point to ‘Hypersonic Gap’ With Russia, China

 In China, C4ISR, GDI, Defense, Air

U.S. sen­a­tors are con­cerned Russia and China may out­pace Washington in devel­op­ing hyper­son­ic weapons.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hear­ing Thursday with top defense offi­cials, law­mak­ers expressed con­cern about the weapons that fly at five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the hyper­son­ic weapons “a game-chang­er.” Independent Senator Angus King of Maine called them “a night­mare weapon for air­craft car­ri­ers.”

“It sounds to me as if hyper­son­ic weapons and other future weapons have been more advanced by other coun­tries such as China, even Russia coming back into the scene in a real aggres­sive way … are we going to deter them from moving for­ward?” asked Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Maintaining strate­gic deter­rence

Testifying before the com­mit­tee, Admiral Charles Richard, com­man­der of U.S. Strategic Command, admit­ted to the ongo­ing com­pe­ti­tion. But he sought to reas­sure the sen­a­tors that the U.S. has the nec­es­sary deter­rence capa­bil­i­ties.

“I am con­fi­dent that this nation has the abil­i­ty to pro­duce the capa­bil­i­ties we have to have,” he said. “And for deter­rence, again, the basic equa­tion hasn’t changed. Can I deny you your aim, or can I impose a cost on you that is greater than what you see? I can do that if nec­es­sary.”

Richard added that the U.S. main­tains con­ven­tion­al supe­ri­or­i­ty over Russia and China while main­tain­ing strate­gic deter­rence.

Experts say, how­ev­er, that hyper­son­ic weapon sys­tems could change the exist­ing bal­ance of con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary power between the U.S. and its major com­peti­tors.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of the Congress, both China and Russia have con­duct­ed numer­ous suc­cess­ful tests of hyper­son­ic glide vehi­cles and both are expect­ed to field an oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty as early as 2020.

There are two types of hyper­son­ic weapons: cruise mis­siles and glide vehi­cles. Both are dif­fi­cult to track and inter­cept because they can maneu­ver in mid­flight.

Boosting budget for hyper­son­ic weapons

This is why con­tin­ued invest­ment is crit­i­cal in the hyper­son­ic weapons track­ing layer in space, accord­ing to General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, com­man­der of the Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, who tes­ti­fied at the same hear­ing.

“We need to con­tin­ue to invest in that space sens­ing layer, because as we go from a bal­lis­tic mis­sile to a hyper­son­ic glide vehi­cle, it really changes the prob­lem of main­tain­ing cus­tody of that weapons system through­out its entire flight,” said O’Shaughnessy.

In the 2021 budget released Monday, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed $3.2 bil­lion for hyper­son­ic weapons, a 23% increase from last year.

“FY2020 rep­re­sents a piv­otal year for hyper­son­ic weapon devel­op­ment and field­ing as the depart­ment begins aggres­sive­ly flight-test­ing capa­bil­i­ties across mul­ti­ple domains,” Richard said in writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has yet to spec­i­fy when it will field American hyper­son­ic weapons.

New START Treaty

Senators also asked top mil­i­tary lead­ers about what to expect after the New START Treaty expires in February 2021.

While noting that extend­ing the treaty is ulti­mate­ly a polit­i­cal deci­sion, Richard point­ed to some of the short­com­ings of the agree­ment.

“It does not address a very large class of weapons that the Russians have a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage in, it doesn’t con­strain novel sys­tems, and it is a bilat­er­al treaty,” he said.

He expressed a higher level of dis­trust in China’s inten­tions in nuclear weapon devel­op­ment.

Richard said he could “drive a truck through China’s no-first-use policy,” adding, “They’re very opaque about what their inten­tions are. They’re very dif­fer­ent from the Russians.”

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to forge a tri­lat­er­al arms agree­ment with Russia and China, although China has so far refused to take part.

-ends-

Source: Defense Aerospace

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