While the arms control regime is going through the hardest times ever, a superweapons arms race is on. This month, the US demonstrated its capability to deliver long-range precision strikes in Syria. It also used its most powerful non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast can obliterate everything within a 1,000-yard radius. The US military started testing the new B61-12 gravity nuclear bomb in Nevada. A fleet of F-35 stealth fighter jets arrived in Europe. Today, railguns and directed-energy weapons systems are counted upon to sustain America’s precision strike advantage. But there is an area where the US appears to be lagging behind.
The emergence of hypersonic weapons is a revolution that seriously affects the global balance of power. For instance, when the new $15 billion US Ford-class aircraft carrier is commissioned, it will become vulnerable to hypersonic missiles.
On April 15, Russia successfully tested the 5-ton 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile that will travel at eight times the speed of sound at 6,136mph.
«During the tests of the missile, it was confirmed that its speed on the march reaches eight Mach», Russian news agency TASS reported.
The hypersonic missile is a quantum leap in technology. It requires no electronic countermeasure warfare and complex trajectory of flight. The sheer speed makes any contemporary anti-aircraft defenses obsolete. The only air defense system that can strike targets capable of speeds of around Mach 5.0-Mach 6.0 is the Russian S-500.
The weapon is designed to be carried by advanced and modernized warships and submarines, including those of the Husky-class. Production of the missile is expected to be launched next year. The Admiral Nakhimov and the Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered missile cruisers will be the first to receive the new weapon in 2018 and 2022 respectively. The Russian Navy plans to refit the two giant warships with ten 3S-14 vertical launch systems – each of which carries eight rounds. The addition of the 3S-14 would enable each ship to carry eighty cruise missiles onboard.
According to the «A Threat to America's Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power: High-Speed, Maneuvering Weapons», report produced in late 2016 by a blue-ribbon panel of experts for Air Force Studies Board at the National Academies of Science, the US is falling behind in the technology race to develop both defensive and offensive high-speed maneuvering arms. The paper sounds the alarm about an arms race quietly underway for several years to develop hypersonic missiles for both strategic nuclear weapons and conventional rapid strike systems.
Mark J. Lewis, chairman of the panel that produced the report, said the panel concluded that «the United States may be facing a threat from a new class of weapons that will effectively combine speed, maneuverability, and altitude in ways that could challenge this nation’s tenets of global vigilance, reach, and power».
Russia is also leading in hypersonic gliders. For instance, in October 2016 Russia successfully tested Object 4202 – an advanced glider warhead. The test was conducted at midday from a site near the town of Yasny, Orenburg region, in the southern Urals, and the warhead reached the Kura test range in Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East. The hypersonic glider vehicle (HGV) vehicle travels most of the time in the stratosphere rather than in space. It can maneuver during the approach to a target at high speed, leaving almost no time for missile defense systems to respond. The HGV is capable of accelerating to a maximum speed of 15 Mach (7 kilometers per second). The warhead was created using solely Russian-made components, including on-board equipment, electronic components and the guidance system. Object 4202 is to be installed on the Russia’s RS-28 Sarmat next-generation heavy intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying up to three HGVs as payload.
While spending ten times less that the United States on defense, including research and development, Russia has produced weapons that make entire US missile defense effort ineffective, while providing it with technological edge in first strike capability.
This is the time when fantasies come true. Russia has acquired the technology to create real models of hypersonic weapons, including cruise missiles and hypersonic warheads for ICBMs-gliders. Its world leadership in the race is confirmed by successful tests. Nobody else in the world is anywhere near to mass production phase.