The article was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
WARSAW, (BM) – The US Department of Defense has identified hypersonic technology as one of its top priorities when modernizing its armed forces. The reason is the breakthrough achieved by Russia and China in this field. The Americans want to create weapons in this technology first, multi-layer defense against this threat in the second, and reusable platforms in the third.
While we will have to wait until the middle of the next decade for Washington’s hypersonic fighters or bombers, missiles in this technology, or at least some of them, are to be released by 2025. The first will be the new class AGM-183A ARRW (air-launched rapid response weapon – a quick response weapon fired from the air). This weapon uses accelerated sliding technology, has a range of 1,600 km and a speed of almost 25,000 km per hour. The latter can be achieved thanks to the high operational ceiling of the projectile, estimated at 25-61 km in the case of hypersonic weapons.
It is currently speculated that the carriers would be B-1, B-52 bombers, and an appropriately adapted F-15. The latter, let us add, is similar to the Russian MiG-31K interceptor, which already carries the Ch-47M2 Kindżał missiles, but operating on a slightly different principle (these are aero-ballistic missiles, similar to classic ballistic missiles reaching hypersonic speed in certain flight stages). Interestingly, it is assumed that the role of the AGM-183A carrier will be the last assignment of the remaining B-1B Lancer service. In their context, there is talk of the possibility of carrying 31 (!) Such missiles at the same time – in the weapons compartment and the external suspension points currently being considered.
The AGM-183A program, led by the Armaments Directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, is already well advanced. Its representative, General Heath A. Collins, claims that Pentagon will carry out the first booster’s flight in the target configuration in the coming days. His agency is also preparing to transfer this missile production to its final destination, and therefore start mass production in just 12 months. The new weapon in the form of at least a functional prototype is presented in the fiscal year 2022. Simultaneously, hypersonic weapons, based at least in part on a joint element base, are to be introduced to other types of troops, including ground forces. The US Army assumes that the first battery may be equipped with this type of equipment as early as 2023.
All this testifies to both the haste and high priority given to hypersonic weapons and the extensive experience in this field. Although the USA has not introduced such solutions to use so far and has been ahead of its geopolitical rivals in this respect, hypersonic weapons programs have been conducted there since the 1960s. In the last 25 years alone, 1.7 billion of its demonstrators have been spent on programs. USD.
So AGM-183A did not come from the air following President Donald Trump’s announcement last May that America would have a “super-duper missile.” It is merely cutting off the coupons from work that took place before, though it did not lead to mass production at the time.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), DARPA, and other agencies have gained expertise in areas such as aerothermal, solid and liquid rocket propulsion, scram-jet jet engines, and temperature-resistant structures and materials. The US also did work on guidance and control systems for hypersonic combat systems.
Not having their hypersonic weapons while the Chinese and Russians have them is not a matter of prestige, or it is a secondary problem. It is, however, about the ability that these types of projectiles give. Hypersonic armaments are neither ballistic nor cruise missiles. It works on different ceilings, different trajectories, behaves unpredictably (for the opponent). Of course, it is speedy, which dramatically shortens the time to react, make decisions, and, consequently, the ability to defend. Especially that the anti-missile defense systems developed so far were not designed to combat hypersonic weapons.
Therefore, after creating the ability to strike with it, which is to be achieved in the first half of this decade, opportunities for defense against it are to be made in the second. This class’s layered reason is to be built by the end of the decade, and therefore even against reusable hypersonic platforms (airplanes and unmanned aerial vehicles). The defense is given the same priority as offensive abilities, so we deal with both the construction of a hypersonic sword and a shield. The shield will be built later, both due to less experience in this regard and that defense is usually more challenging to create than an offensive solution.
Finally, it is worth adding that hypersonic weapons are to be developed for all platforms and defensive systems. They are to be used by both land forces and ships and, of course, airplanes. The US will create additional possibilities by introducing reusable hypersonic machines, which will also provide information from reconnaissance and surveillance. Will they be similar to the legendary Aurora plane? [Read more of our articles and in-depth comments in our Patreon channel]
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