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Thread: Hypersonic Weapons : A new arms race, or just hype?!

  1. #1 Hypersonic Weapons : A new arms race, or just hype?! 
    Forum Senior Double Helix's Avatar
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    Dec 2020
    Was looking at some of the reports on new weapons being developed and came across an excellent article in Science that tells a rather chilling story about hypersonic weapons (1). To many, they appear to be more offensive than defensive. Doubtless their primary use would be very offensive. This is clearly problematic in that a robust national defense and MAD has always been the presumed means by which the major powers keep a lid on global war. That equation may be changing, and not in a positive way.

    There are basically two forms of such weapons: hypersonic cruise missiles, and rocket-boosted hypersonic glide vehicles. The U.S. and Russia have been looking at these for decades, and not much has come out of that for various reasons. But now it appears that China is getting into the game, and reports indicate they are developing some very sophisticated weapon systems that could provoke a serious problem in arms control, to say nothing of a hot war (2).

    One can only wonder where this will lead. China is not under threat by any nations. So why would they develop such sophisticated weapons which many think are offensive in nature? With MAD, the best defense is decidedly NOT a good offense!

    But there are serious limitations to such weapons, with thermal issues being the most significant. Anything flying at hypersonic speeds, typically defined as greater than Mach 5, has problems with heating, either from "engine" aspects, or atmospheric friction, or both.

    Such obstacles are difficult to overcome. These problems have limited (at least in the past) the design and even the development of such weapons as the costs alone are quite significant. Regardless of these assumptions, people need to take a close look at this area of conflict, and understand it has the potential for some very undesirable kinetic interactions.

    And China is certainly not alone in developing such weapons. For the super powers and advanced weapon systems, one must keep up with the neighbors or face subjugation or annihilation, or so it would seem. As such, the U.S. and Russia are also spending billions on these systems (3,4), as well as defensive means required to prevent their successful use, if that is even possible.

    One can only wonder where all of this will lead. Will cooler heads prevail, or are we getting into a new arms race that could end up without a winner? Even if one nation develops a strategic advantage in such weapons and uses them, MAD is standing by, ready to deliver a terminal solution for everyone. It would seem a good time to open up some serious negotiations to limit the development of such destabilizing weapons. Sadly, there seems little interest for that by some of the players, and for reasons most would not want to hear about.

    Perhaps this is one of those times where hope really is the best strategy.

    " ‘National pride is at stake.' Russia, China, United States race to build hypersonic weapons"


    "Behind murky claim of a new hypersonic missile test, there lies a very real arms race"


    "Pentagon says hypersonic weapons are too expensive"


    "Russia says it successfully tested hypersonic missile praised by Putin"


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  3. #2  
    Forum Senior Double Helix's Avatar
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    Dec 2020
    A recent review on hypersonic weapons in Scientific American (1) indicates that the latest claims made by China and Russia are likely not accurate. The physics involved, primarily heating at high speeds in the lower atmosphere, prevents such sophisticated weapons from becoming practical.

    The U.S. attempted to make such vehicles in the past (2), and has concluded they are simply not likely to provide a reliable and functional weapon. Despite the U.S. defense department's concern over recent tests regarding such weapon systems, they really know these things don't work as billed.

    The only logical approach to building hypersonic weapon systems - those which may avoid interception - appears to be with "maneuverable reentry vehicles" (MaRVs), which are much easier to design and deploy (1). They also survive high temperatures and accurately strike the intended target.

    Hypersonic weapons designed to avoid detection and interception by high maneuverability, in order to provide rapid strikes on surface targets, are likely limited to science fiction rather than real weapon systems.

    "The Physics and Hype of Hypersonic Weapons"


    "Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2"


    Last edited by Double Helix; December 27th, 2021 at 07:35 PM.
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