US defense systems ‘too weak’ to detect Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles, admits another military expert

US military experts increasingly recognize that the United States lags behind China and Russia in hypersonic capabilities.

Last year, at least two senior US military officials highlighted the threat posed by America’s main adversaries. In August 2021, US Strategic Command Chief Charles Richard, speaking at the annual Space Defense Symposium, said Russian hypersonic technology will provide the country’s navy with an undeniable advantage.

“Our current system of sensors on the ground and in space may not be able to cope with the detection and tracking of these missiles. I must admit that Russia is the world’s leading country in hypersonic technology. And if the companies of our defense industry in a short time do not find how to resist them, the ships of the fleets of NATO countries will become vulnerable, ”said Richard.

Echoing a similar concern, General David Thompson, vice chief of the US Space Force, said in November that America had “some catch-up to do very quickly” to match Beijing’s hypersonic capability. “We are not as advanced as the Chinese or the Russians in terms of hypersonic programs,” the general was quoted as saying by Politico.

His reaction came a week after China successfully launched a missile that apparently circled the globe before hitting a target.

Now, a former Pentagon official, William Schneider, has written in an op-ed in the Financial Times that the United States must catch up with Chinese and Russian breakthroughs in hypersonic weaponry or risk losing the edge over the other two superpowers.

Artist’s impression of China’s hypersonic missile

People who rejected the Chinese and Russian tests “missed the significance,” wrote William Schneider, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and former undersecretary of state and chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board.

The United States Ballistic Missile Early Warning System is a network of satellites and radars that work with their command, control, and communications systems to detect, track, and locate enemy missile attacks.

In space, China and Russia have well-developed offensive capabilities. The Chinese satellite Shijian 21 (CJ-21), for example, disappeared from its regular geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the planet in late January. The CJ-21 maneuvered close to one of the problematic satellites in China’s constellation of 35 Beidou satellites. The faulty satellite was then moved to a “graveyard” orbit using a grappling hook arm.

The Biden administration’s space priorities framework, released in December, acknowledges that space is “essential to modern combat,” but maintains that the United States would not use space for offensive military purposes. “This makes our deterrence vulnerable to countries that disagree with us,” according to Schneider.

Early warning system

The United States is working on a space-based system that will use improved infrared sensors to identify moving hypersonic missiles. Current missile defense systems, on the other hand, are incapable of engaging fast maneuvering warheads.

The Space Infrared System (SBIRS) is a constellation of geosynchronous and high elliptical orbit (HEO) satellites, together with data processing and ground command and control centers. Missile early warning, tracking missile defenses, providing technical intelligence (TECHINT), and supporting battlespace awareness are all part of this system’s mission.

For years, the US military – as well as its adversaries – has sought missiles that travel at hypersonic speeds. When intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) enter the atmosphere from space, they meet this criterion.

However, they lack the element of surprise as they follow a predetermined ballistic trajectory. Hypersonic weapons such as the Chinese Wave Rider, on the other hand, maneuver aerodynamically, allowing them to avoid defenses and keep an opponent guessing the target.

The SM-6 general-purpose missile, according to US Navy Vice Admiral Jon Hill, the head of the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA), is the only weapon in the country’s stockpile that can take down highly hypersonic threats. manageable, as before. declared by the EurAsian Times. However, even this missile could not protect early warning systems.

SM-6 missile |  Raytheon Missiles & Defense
SM-6 missile | Raytheon missiles

At low, medium and high altitudes, China and Russia have developed countermeasures that jeopardize American space surveillance and communication capabilities, Schneider explains.

China and Russia could perform a wide range of offensive space activities by maneuvering their spacecraft near US satellites. Sensors, onboard computations, data links, or satellite power systems can all be disrupted, spoofed, or destroyed, and malicious programs can be inserted via computer methods.

All of this is enhanced by their ability to target critical US infrastructure using both cyber and kinetic weapons. Military operations, as well as the electrical grid, national telecommunications, and air and rail transportation infrastructure that underpins America’s economic and military power, all rest on this foundation.

missile early warning
A US Air Force Space Command ballistic missile early warning radar. (photo AFSC)

In 2018, the then US general who commanded the country’s nuclear arsenal issued a stark warning that Russia and China were “aggressively” building new hypersonic weapons against which the US has no protection, as CNN previously reported.

Although the weapons weren’t expected to be operational for several years, US Strategic Command’s four-star commander, General John Hyten, had warned that missile defense upgrades were urgently needed or the US would be unable to to detect them once they are operational. .

The current generation of satellites and radars, according to Hyten and other military authorities, would not be sufficient to detect such weapons.

China’s and Russia’s manoeuvrable hypersonic missile capabilities provide these “hostile nations” with a combined capability to destroy the US early warning system. The United States would be blind to the approach of a foreign missile assault under these conditions, and its ability to retaliate would be severely limited, warns Schneider.

America racing against time

At a high-level conference last week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged the CEOs of more than two dozen major defense companies to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons, as reported CNN.

Austin spoke on the subject in urgent terms, according to two CEOs who attended the meeting and described China as a threat in this industry.

At the meeting chaired by Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, senior officials from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Leidos, Aerojet Rocketdyne, BAE Systems, L3Harris and about half a dozen other companies defense were present.

The Pentagon has injected more urgency into the US program and increased the budget for hypersonic weapons development following progress by China and Russia and recent unsuccessful tests. The FY22 budget allocated $3.8 billion for hypersonic research, up from $3.2 billion the previous year.

In recent months, the US hypersonic industry has struggled and failed. A test of a hypersonic glide body failed in October last year due to a fault in the rocket that propelled it to hypersonic speeds. Previously, a hypersonic missile failed to detach from a B-52H Stratofortress bomber during a test at Edwards Air Force Base in April 2021.

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