New hypersonic aerospace technology propels global arms race

It’s nothing short of amazing the way human beings are, in terms of our inability to make peace with one another. Shamefully, there are regions of the world that have been in perpetual conflict since the beginning of time. We had Germany against the Allied Forces in a World War.

There is North Korea and South Korea, the only two countries that speak Korean, in conflict and apparently unable to make peace with each other. There was the conflict between Northern and Southern Sudan, and who would forget the Arms Race between the West and Russia? Just a few days ago, the second most important person in Iran was killed at the Bagdad airport in Iraq with a drone strike from an enemy country. A consequence of these pervasive global unrests is the need for each country to acquire the necessary wherewithal (ammunitions, intelligence, cyber-capabilities, and so on) to protect itself and be able to inflict pain on other countries, when it thinks it should. Sad, but this is the reality of the world in which we live.

As per the power of intentions, the capabilities for fighting wars tend to scale, perhaps nonlinearly (i.e., dramatically), with any little improvements in human knowhow. That is, every new technology seems to bring with it new ways of fighting wars. Even the Internet is now a potent war-fighting weapon. Moreover, the desire to win wars also forms motivation for numerous novel technological innovations. The development of the nuclear technology brought with it highly potent arsenals for killing people. We have all read about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan by the allied forces in 1945 that led to the death of over 130,000 Japanese.

Aerospace technologies are at the heart of the global warfare. Although ground troop capabilities are needed to win certain wars, airpower superiority is almost a given. The New York Times (NYT) of 27 December 2019 (Julian Barnes and David Sanger) reported that “the Russian military had deployed a hypersonic weapon that flies at superfast speeds and can easily evade American missile defense systems, potentially setting off a new chapter in the long arms race between the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers.” According to Steven Simon in another NYT article on 2 January 2020, “Hypersonic weapons, at long last, appear poised to fulfill the promise of air power. In an era when the use of ground troops has proved costly, unpopular and generally ineffective, and where threats might be real but not necessarily “strategic,” they are a godsend: missiles whose accuracy minimizes the risk of collateral damage, that pose no risk to aircrews, are unstoppable and phenomenally accurate, can yield an impact equal to five to ten tons of high explosive with no warhead at all yet be capable of delivering a nuclear bomb, and can reach nearly every coordinate on the surface of the earth within 30 minutes.”

The Russian hypersonic missile system, which is referred to as “Avangard,” has many interesting features: It flies at superfast (hypersonic) speeds, with the capability to reach any point on earth within an hour or less. The missile can easily evade any defense systems, with the capability of maneuvering along unpredictable trajectories, making them very difficult to track by current systems. Furthermore, they can fly lower in the atmosphere and avoid ballistic missiles and defense radars. (“Ballistic” relates to projectiles – such as rockets and bullets.) Note that the newly unveiled Russian weapon, which is also known as a hypersonic glide vehicle, is mounted on an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile). (An ICBM is a guided (ballistic) missile that is capable of hitting a target that is located up to 5,500 kilometers away.)

According to Barnes and Sanger, “Moscow has been working on the technology for years and has invested heavily in it, determined to reverse the pattern in the Cold War, when it was often struggling to catch up with American nuclear weapons systems. If Avangard works as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia boasted when he described the weapon a year ago, it would significantly enhance Moscow’s already powerful nuclear forces, American officials said.” “Senior American military officials said the United States plans to deploy its own hypersonic weapons by 2022.”

There is the opinion that the “the Russian announcement may be as much about spurring a new round of diplomatic talks as it is about reviving an arms race.” “Moscow is anxious for President Trump to renew the last remaining arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, called New START, which limits strategic nuclear missile launchers and deployed warheads for both nations. The treaty expires soon after the next (US) presidential inauguration in 2021.” The Trump administration in the US has been wary about extending New START, asking that China and other nuclear powers be included before any renewal could take place. Meanwhile, China has reportedly expressed a lack of interest in any numerical limits on its arsenal, whose size is reportedly one-fifth of America’s. Besides China, Russia, and the US, countries such as India, France and others are all developing hypersonic weapons similar to Russia’s Avangard. May God Save Us!

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