Pentagon: Hypersonic Needed to Defeat Russian Air Defense Systems

waveriderPentagon leaders see hypersonic flight of weapons and aircraft as essential to future military superiority, citing it as a revolutionary technology that could enable U.S. forces to thwart sophisticated next-generation integrated air defense systems.

“Integrated air defense systems are getting to be very hard. Electronic warfare is part of the answer but part of the answer is speed. If they can’t catch you – you can get in and do your strike,” said Al Shaffer, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Research and Engineering.

Shaffer mentioned Syrian, Russian and Chinese air defense systems as among the more technologically advanced systems, suggesting that hypersonic weaponry could be key in the future should the U.S. need to go up against these countries.

While today’s cruise missiles travel at speeds up to 600 miles per hour, hypersonic weapons will be able to reach speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 10.

Shaffer mentioned hypersonic flight alongside electronic warfare and autonomy as areas of potential revolutionary technological change. As a result, it needs to be an area of continued prototyping, experimentation and emphasis, he said.

He cited four tests of hypersonic technology, highlighting that two of the tests were successful. In particular, he referred to the test of the X-51 waverider over the Pacific Ocean in May of last year wherein a scramjet accelerated to Mach 5.1.

The May 1 test flight, which wound up being the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever, wrapped up a $300 million technology demonstration program beginning in 2004, according to an Air Force statement.

Mounted to a B-52H Stratofortress, the X-51A was released at approximately 50,000 feet and accelerated to Mach 4.8 in about 26 seconds powered by a solid rocket booster. After separating from the booster, The cruiser’s supersonic combustion, or scramjet, engine accelerated the aircraft to Mach 5.1 at 60,000 feet, according to Air Force officials.

Shaffer referred to the most recent test as a breakthrough.

“For the second time, we have shown that a scramjet can ignite and get positive acceleration. That is a huge deal. That means we are now beginning to understand hypersonics,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer also added that hypersonic aircraft are expected to be much less expensive than traditional turbine engines because they require fewer parts.

Shaffer did not specifically address China’s recent test of a hypersonic missile, but he did say the U.S. should work to make sure it is the global leader in hypersonic technology.

“We, the U.S., do not want to be the second country to understand how to control hypersonics,” he said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • andy

    Please cut back FOREIGN AID and get a few thousand of these missiles (10,000)…Commi can’t never be trusted….

  • Chris

    Why stop there, just go for WARP Speed…. Don’t forget the photon torpedoes.

    • Lance

      What? the X-Wing is obsolete???? What about the Death Star?????

      DO we have to go with crappy Excelsior class starships too pls no!

      LOL just joking.

    • John Deere

      NASA are already working on it… seriously:

      • dkl

        We have learned to expect expensive BS from NASA. Tell them to make a real Saturn V rocket first.

    • Jacob

      A warp speed projectile might be enough to destroy the entire planet…

  • david

    So long as we elect people like Obama there won’t be any need for weapons like this since Obama has no backbone and will let Russia take over all the former USSR without doing a thing.

  • Lance

    What???? I thought Stealth is all we wanted. The JSF is slow Mach 1 and less maneuverable than the F-16 or F-18 but these block headed brass said who cares its STEALTH!!!!! Now they want again HIGH SPEED! Well its a bit of a improvement.

  • Tribulationtime

    Looks good idea. A scramjet missile which goes down at 5 mach, perform close challenge for air defenses than MIRV. And theoretically cheaper.

  • Will

    “Shaffer also added that hypersonic aircraft are expected to be much less expensive than traditional turbine engines because they require fewer parts.”

    A scramjet vehicle needs some another engine to get it going fast enough for the scramjet to work. So what is Shaffer talking about, if not a turbojet? A rocket motor? Liquid fuel or solid fuel?

  • blight_

    Space seems to think the PRC’s version uses the velocity boost of a rocket launch and gravity PE to achieve hypersonic velocities. To contrast this approach uses a bomber to get the altitude, but must reach those velocities through its own power.

  • dubweiser101

    I don’t think this is the way to go. During the Cold War the USAF thought that the only way to defeat Soviet missile defenses was by going higher and faster resulting in the pricey Mach 3+ XB-70.

    So how did the Soviets respond? They simply built missiles that could also go faster and higher… Moral of the story: It’s cheaper to build a missile that can match the performance of an aircraft any day.

    They should improve passive systems like ECM, stealth, or even directed energy based weapons that can hit a SAM before it gets within range.

    • elcidbob

      Hitting an object moving so fast, even one with limited maneuvering due to velocity, is not a simple problem. First, you have to detect it. If its low you need over-the-horizon or beyond line of sight detection ability. The higher it is the farther away you can see it, but you’d need defense in depth to combat it. By the time you detect it and generate a targeting solution it has moved a long way. You may have time for some mid-course corrections from a missle site far behind you that you hope is not too far off the approach azimuth. You only get one shot at it so a crossing shot is a low probability of intercept. The interceptor actually needs to blow up ahead of the hypervelocity missle or have a skin-on-skin kill.

      Not just a simple problem in geometry, but one of physics as well.

  • DarkEnergy

    So far Hypersonics have been slow go. All that work just to get to mach 5 is not impressive. Single stage solid rocket missiles, can do mach5, and even Ramjet Meteor hits mach 4.5.

    For this to makes sense you need 1000 plus mile ranges, and mach 8 plus, with 1000 lb warheads.

  • Based on this article we should cancel the F-35, update legacy fighters and put money into hypersonic systems. Or we could develop better air defenses and do like the Chinese and put conventional warheads on ballistic missiles.

    • John Deere

      Putting conventional warheads on long range ballistic missiles could trigger nuclear Armageddon. Who’s to know what kind of payload you’re packing.

      • ncb1397

        A first strike would have to include 100s of launches simultaneously to be effective. Russia doesn’t nuke the United States every time we put something into orbit that over flies the country because it *could* have a nuclear weapon on board.

      • dkl

        That’s your argument?

      • Kostas

        the same applies to the hypersonic missiles-who knows what you are packing in them and who prevents you from arming them with nukes?

  • Peter

    I agree with cancelling the F-35, though that should have been done years back before it cost (lost?) so much money. But one other thing to bear in mind. I don’t know the figures but with hypersonic missiles surely you can also cut back on warhead size and use the kinetic energy to do some of the destruction?

  • Rob

    All the major powers at be already have overwhelming ability to destroy each other. I do not think a few higher speed weapons would make a difference. It will come down to tactics of who makes other surrender first , after millions are killed, or which side breaks the chain of communication preventing operation orders from being received.

    Money better to be spent on shelters, tunnels,redunant communication systems, border defense …

    • Allan

      You are missing the point..and much of the discussion also does….The Chinese built a hypersonic cruise missile to defeat the use of aircraft carrier groups which will find it hard to defeat the end game speed. It negates our primary [or at least decreases] our defense and attack capacity that has been unmatched to this time. The true emphasis is dominance over the S China Sea and its oil/gas islands that are owned by other nations.

      It does also help in taking out air defensive systems in a conflict…without which air dominance is not obtained…a major fundemental in any conflict.

  • Thewhiteurn

    I’m sitting on the tech that can do hyper sonic flight… And I will develop it.
    This will kick some butt guys…

    • Theblueum

      I, ah, can’t wait?

  • Shamwowed

    If hypersonics are doable, the only way I believe it could be defeated would be directed energy. I strategic problem to ask is which is more likely; RussiaChina fielding successful lasers or us building a fleet of hypersonic aircraft? Oh well as they say, for every measure there is a counter-measure.

  • War Man

    What is wrong with making fighter aircraft have more armor and still make them supersonic instead of being hypersonic and expensive/maintenance heavy?

  • Bernard

    This is a waste. Hypersonic speed is only feasible at high altitude and it ruins maneuverability. Not only that but the fuel required is exponentially more than a subsonic missile.

  • hibeam

    Hypersonic Missiles are Needed to Defeat Russian Air Defense Systems? Are you implying Hillarie’s reset button did not work? Maybe we should try a respect button? R-E-S-P-C-T. The cold war is over and Putin is our bestest new friend ever. Lets stay on that path otherwise we will look like incompetent wishy washy fools.

    • peters

      Then there won’t be any big govt spending to fatten the coffers of defense corps. That’s not acceptable to the owners of this country.

  • jsallison

    Two words: Project Thor.

  • hibeam

    Could a Hypersonic missile reach Libya in time? That might be a selling point. I assume we would still have to mount them on hot air balloons tethered to our embassy. Otherwise it would be too far. Too far.

  • bobbymike

    Time for a massive investment in Prompt Global Strike technologies especially Mach 20+ boost glide systems combined with rebuilding our entire Triad and start building new nuke warheads. Let our enemies know we aren’t f*&^ing around.

    One trillion for defense!

    • John Deere

      Sounds like a 1950s job creation program; but, it’s the kind of stimulus the economy could do with, in other words: direct investment; rather than neoliberal, supply side, attempts to kick start lending via quantitative easing.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Are you kidding me! The F-35 can’t defeat Russian IADS, but hypersonic missiles can?

    Ordnance is more important than platforms. Sound familiar? Who needs the F-35 when you can have a ton of these hypersonic missile?

  • Tiger

    More spending on dream threats, instead of real ones.

  • Ms. Putin

    The Israelis got into and out of Syria Six years ago without a scratch using non-stealth aircraft.

    • Kruno

      But back then Russkies didn’t sell his friend Assad a modern SAM system like S-300. Today they have them and there would surely bring down a few F-15/16. I am not saying that they have enough missiles to bring down the whole fleet but you can guess the American public’s reaction if they saw few F-18’s being shoot down on CNN. You would either have Go home Americans or blow the shit out of them all.

  • Hunter76

    If we don’t cram men into these machines, they’ll fly into mountains.

  • hibeam

    Can we assume the Marines will demand a Hoppersonic variant?

  • Virgil Cuttaway

    Its the Chinese, not the Russians, that Pentagon planners should worry about.

  • William_C1

    In response to the usual “stealth is worthless” talk, think about a few things first.

    Does this whole scenario sound familiar? Yeah it was the same story with the B-52 and the ALCM. Of course the USAF knew that some targets aren’t easily hit by cruise missiles especially those near the center of a large country. Hence the B-1 and B-2. Very heavily defended targets would require weapons like the supersonic SRAM missile to hit, and such weapons have far less range than a subsonic cruise missile like the ALCM.

    Also since we aren’t talking about global thermonuclear war we need sensors in the area to locate mobile targets that need to be destroyed. The use of traditional large AWACS aircraft and J-STARS is hindered here by the threat of very-long range missiles.

    The useful range of even the best IADS is significantly reduced against stealth aircraft. Meaning that those stealth aircraft can exploit a lot of gaps in an air defense network that would otherwise provide excellent coverage of a large area.

    To the F-35 critics, if the threat of the latest Russian and Chinese IADS is as serious as the military thinks it to be, any fighter, even the F-35 is going to need to work in conjunction with other assets to destroy such a collection of high-end air defense systems. You need a combination of stand-off weapons, decoys, stealth, jamming, and advanced EW capability. Perhaps you could be able to do it without stealth but the risk would be far greater requiring many more aircraft in support of such a mission. Even then some losses will be likely.

  • Sanchos

    Scramjet originates from australia, but the government barely funds great ideas.

  • Justin

    “Shaffer also added that hypersonic aircraft are expected to be much less expensive than traditional turbine engines because they require fewer parts”

    Sure. Because nothing will have to be done to the aircraft or weapon to improve its structural strength to compensate for its hypersonic speed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t extremely high maintainance cost per flight hour one of the reasons for the SR71’s demise? I’m sure the more complex manufacturing processes required to produce a hypersonic anything will also add to costs. Add in the guarantee of the DOD thoroughly dicking the development process up and you’ve got another ridiculously expensive system that will be sure to enter service after it’s been obsolete for 5 years.

  • GDC

    What are you all talking about?

  • raima

    u guys need to work on it and make sure it will happen. I mean now we can’t afford wait til tomorrow

  • Stan

    On the one hand you can’t hit what you can’t see. On the other hand no high flying plane is faster than the speed of light. And on the third hand, we are aiming to shoot down ballistic missiles with direct hits so why would a plane be an issue? Maneuverable? Not really. Fast? Missiles can be faster. And so on.

    Developing hypersonic weapons is a great idea. Hypersonic attack planes would be a massive boondoggle unless they could be stealthy which is unlikely. The speed itself is not going to save it and in the long run the beam weapons to shoot them down would be much much cheaper. I would remind people that in WW2 Germany’s argument that quality is always > quantity was proven to be incorrect.

  • Hypersonic weapons, Electromagnegtic Pulse weapons, and direct energy weapons, and weather modification weapons are all effective weapons to use in future conflicts. Additionally, cybersecurity is also essential for government and military operations worldwide. Furthermore, computers and networks that including hardware and software are crucial for control these weapon technologies. Secure and freely access into cyberspace is cornerstone for the military future operations around a globe. Of course, other countries such as Russia and China, and others also have been developing these weapon systems.

  • anthony bauwens

    Were on the platform and on a very good lead.

  • hibeam

    These high speed missiles will reduce the amount of time a directed energy weapon will need to wait before shooting them down. So that’s considerate. I like this for civilian jetliners though. San Fran to China in two hours. Go for it.

  • hpb

    Brahmos 2 is under development also.

  • JJ Murray

    Aren’t these the same Pentagon leaders that for the last few years have been telling us we don’t need a big, powerful Army but instead we need a smaller, lighter, military because the days of the big giants on the block fighting was over? Now that they see the possibility of having a pet project scrapped or cut well NOW they decide that Russia and China might really be a threat.

  • TonyC.

    Hypersonic flight is tricky and the materials technologies are still in development. There is extreme heat associated with hypersonic flight and as stated in another posting, manuverability is very limited ot the aerodynamic forces will tear the vehicle apart. This is a true R&D effort on the part of any country right now.

  • hibeam

    Obama’s apologizes can get through Russian air defenses at the speed of light. So why do we need this silly missile?

  • Dfens

    We had well respected scientists testify in front of congress that it was impossible to shoot down an in coming ballistic missile, and not a one of these people is in jail for lying to congress, which leads me to wonder why China is working on hypersonic maneuvering warheads in the first place, and why we also need these kinds of hypersonic warheads ourselves. I guess its not a lie if you’re telling at least half of congress what they want to hear.

  • Rob C.

    Makes me wonder if were going be able have the right approach to be able counter this new weapon. The Laser arguably faster, but being able to deploy it and being nail a quick target like that would sound like it be super tricky.

    Hopefully the NASA/DARPA will be able work out the X-51’s problem out before Chinese and Russians manage to get their new toys into production.

    • hibeam

      Hook your laser up to the cities power grid. City off! Laser on! Power is not the issue. Political will is the problem.

  • Da_Bunny

    Wait. We just bet everything on Stealth and it won’t defeat IADS?

  • hibeam

    Is this the last article DT is ever going to post?

  • Kostas

    We should just cancel F35A and F35C and invest that money on directed energy systems, hypersonic missiles and plasma cloaks. The game changer is the F35B. Navy is buying a different plane just for the 190 miles extra range, which would still be insufficient and need air refueling. Air Force is buying a different plane again for 150 miles extra range, while with the F35B could deploy from small airfields (just 100 m of runway instead of kms) much closer to the operations area and achieve shorter turn over time and longer time over the area of interest. I envision (apart from practically increasing the number of aircraft carriers by deploying F35B on LHA/LHDs) small “aircraft carrier at the 100 m long class, with a flat top for F35B take off and landing, and a second deck with 8-12 F35B. Aircraft carriers are too difficult to protect and the impact of losing one would be tremendous, but what will happen if you lose one of the ships I am proposing? Pretty much nothing more than losing a frigate.

  • OK, but has anyone noticed how big that missile is? One missile per B-52 pylon. We don’t own enough bombers to put out a large IADS system with hundreds of radars and launchers.