We Must Reclaim Our Global Leadership
October 1, 2023 | View PDF
America is falling far behind in the global arms race – specifically in the realm of hypersonic missile technology. With China and Russia making leaps and bounds, boasting speeds of Mach 10 and Mach 27 respectively, the United States finds itself in an unfamiliar, even precarious, position: playing catch-up.
To truly grasp the magnitude of the challenge we face, it's essential to understand the sheer speed of these hypersonic missiles. Mach 10 is an astounding 7,672 mph, while Mach 27 is an almost unimaginable 20,715 mph. In comparison, a U.S. cruise missile, like the Tomahawk, has a speed of about 550 mph. This means that China's DF-ZIRCON, traveling at Mach 10, is roughly 14 times faster than a Tomahawk missile. Russia's hypersonic missile, which can reach Mach 27, is a staggering 38 times faster. It's not just a matter of a few extra miles per hour, it's an entirely different league of speed. This gap isn't merely a technical discrepancy, it's a chasm that highlights the urgency of our need to innovate and advance our defense capabilities.
How has the country that, under Ronald Reagan, championed the doctrine of "peace through strength" found itself in such a dire state? China, as many reports indicate, has already undertaken a staggering 270 hypersonic weapons tests since 2014, mastering a technology that many consider to be the future of warfare. Their missiles like the DF-17 and DF-ZIRCON are not mere prototypes or ideas on a drawing board, they're realities that could now pierce through our defenses with unnerving speed and agility.
Russia, not to be outdone, has displayed its hypersonic prowess with the Kinzhal and Avangard. Disturbingly, they’ve used the Kinzhal in Ukraine, sending a clear message to the world about their military capabilities and intentions.
And where does the United States stand in this high-stakes race? Unfortunately, we're still in the development phase, with our Hypersonic Glide Body and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon scheduled for deployment in the mid-to-late 2020s. It's almost as if we've been caught flat-footed, unaware of the rapid technological advancements of our competitors.
This is not just about maintaining an edge or having the most advanced toys in the sandbox, this is about global security. The terrifying reality is that these hypersonic missiles can potentially deliver nuclear payloads. Their agility and speed make them nearly impossible to intercept, presenting a real and present danger of nuclear escalation in any conflict.
In our quest to be the world’s policeman intervening in countless conflicts without clear endgames, no matter how noble the cause, America spreads herself very thin. While we were entangled in the quagmires of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, our global competitors stayed focused on the next frontier of warfare. It’s an age-old lesson in strategy: While we played checkers, they were mastering 3D chess. These distractions siphoned not only our precious resources but also our attention from groundbreaking technological advancements. We took our eyes off the ball, prioritizing the battles of today without sufficiently preparing for the challenges of tomorrow. It’s a misstep that has cost us dearly, and now more than ever, we need to refocus and reclaim our leadership in global defense innovation. What’s especially galling is the basic research, that they built their hypersonic missiles on, is American.
Our path forward is clear and uncompromising. The U.S. must double down on its efforts, channeling resources into hypersonic missile development to ensure we remain a formidable deterrent against the growing might of China and Russia. Further, collaboration with our allies in creating defenses against these missiles is paramount. We must, as a nation, strive for nothing less than leadership in this pivotal technology. In the face of hypersonic threats, second place simply isn't good enough.