Hypersonic weapons: background and issues for congress, descriptive note:, [technical report, congressional report], corporate author:, congressional research service, personal author(s):.
- Slayer, Kelley M.
Pagination or media count:, the united states has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons - maneuvering weapons that fly at speeds of at least mach 5 - as a part of its conventional prompt global strike program since the early 2000s. in recent years, the united states has focused such efforts on developing hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target, and hypersonic cruise missiles, which are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines during flight. as former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and former commander of u.s. strategic command general john hyten has stated, these weapons could enable responsive, long-range, strike options against distant, defended, andor time-critical threats such as road-mobile missiles when other forces are unavailable, denied access, or not preferred. critics, on the other hand, contend that hypersonic weapons lack defined mission requirements, contribute little to u.s. military capability, and are unnecessary for deterrence. funding for hypersonic weapons has been relatively restrained in the past however, both the pentagon and congress have shown a growing interest in pursuing the development and near-term deployment of hypersonic systems. this is due, in part, to the advances in these technologies in russia and china, both of which have a number of hypersonic weapons programs and have likely fielded operational hypersonic glide vehicles - potentially armed with nuclear warheads. most u.s. hypersonic weapons, in contrast to those in russia and china, are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead. as a result, u.s. hypersonic weapons will likely require greater accuracy and will be more technically challenging to develop than nuclear-armed chinese and russian systems., descriptors:.
- prompt global strike
- hypersonic glide vehicles
- test and evaluation
- united states northern command
- united states strategic command
- test facilities
- hypersonic cruise missiles
- national security
- boost glide vehicles
- hypersonic missiles
- hypersonic weapons
- ballistic missiles
- defense systems
- Research and Experimental Aircraft
- Guided Missiles
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July 2022 CRS report to Congress on hypersonic weapons' background and issues
Russia: Hypersonic Weapons
- Articles and Databases
- Cyber Security, Espionage, and Information Warfare
- Nuclear Weapons
- Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress Congressional Research Service report on Hypersonic Weapons, background and issues for Congress
- Assessing the Influence of Hypersonic Weapons on Deterrence Deterrence Research Task Force deep dive into more fully understanding the link between technological innovation and strategic deterrence.
- Hypersonic Weapons Primer AFPC’s Defense Technology Program launched its Strategic Primer initiative to educate Congressional staffers and the general public about technologies that affect U.S. national security.
- Hypersonic Weapons - A Technological Challenge for Allied Nations and NATO? This draft report offers a brief overview of the current state of hypersonic weapons development, including key technology and actors.Your Rapporteur also discusses possible implications of the development and deployment of hypersonic weapons for NATO and NATO Allies.
- NTI Report on Russia's New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems The Nuclear Threat Initiative protects lives, the environment and our quality of life now and for future generations. Every day, we work to prevent catastrophic attacks with weapons of mass destruction and disruption—nuclear, biological, radiological, chemical and cyber.
- Hypersonic Weapons and Strategic Stability Hypersonic weapons – in particular, hypersonic boost-glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles – are rapidly becoming a reality. China, Russia, the United States and several other countries are pursuing these weapons. Some may carry nuclear warheads.
- Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation Hypersonic missiles—specifically, hypersonic glide vehicles and hyper-sonic cruise missiles—are a new class of threat able to penetrate most missile defenses and to further compress the timelines for a response by a nation under attack. Such missiles are being developed by the United States, Russia, and China. Their proliferation beyond these three nations could result in lesser powers setting their strategic forces on hair-trigger states of readiness and more credibly being able to threaten attacks on major powers.
- Defense Primer Hypersonic Boost Glide Weapons Congressional Research Service report on Hypersonic Boost-Glide Weapons
- Hypersonic Missile Defense Congressional Research Service report on Hypersonic Missile Defense
- Hypersonic Weapons and Escalation Control in East Asia Article from Strategic Studies Quarterly analyzing evolution of American and Chinese hypersonic weapons and their use in a potential conflict
- Hypersonic Weapons in the Indo-Pacific Region Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security primer on hypersonic weapons use in the Indo-Pacific region.
The United States, Russian Federation, and People's Republic of China are racing to develop and deploy hypersonic weapons capable of defeating traditional deterrents in an effort to change the nature of the current strategic balance. Both China and Russia have unveiled glide vehicles and cruise missiles with hypersonic capabilities and have implemented them into their forces already. For the Chinese, the DF-ZF is a hypersonic glide vehicle mounting the Dongfeng-17 cruise missile; the Russians utilize the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched, nuclear capable cruise missile with a claimed speed of over Mach 10. The Russian Strategic Missile Forces also employ a hypersonic glide vehicle known as the Avangard. The United States is currently testing and preparing to field an answer to its adversaries hypersonic capabilities.
Defense Advanced Research Products Agency's (DARPA) Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle (HTV)
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army)
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U.s. hypersonic weapons and alternatives.
CBO analyzes the hypersonic missiles being developed by the U.S. military and compares them with less expensive existing or potential weapons that might fill similar roles, such as cruise missiles or ballistic missiles.
The Army, Navy, and Air Force are each developing hypersonic missiles—nonnuclear offensive weapons that fly faster than five times the speed of sound and spend most of their flight in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those missiles are intended to be maneuverable and capable of striking targets quickly (in roughly 15 minutes to 30 minutes) from thousands of kilometers away.
In this report, the Congressional Budget Office analyzes the hypersonic weapons being developed by the U.S. military and compares them with less expensive existing or potential weapons that might fill similar roles, such as ballistic missiles or cruise missiles. CBO reached the following conclusions:
- Technological challenges must still be overcome to field hypersonic missiles. The fundamental remaining challenge involves managing the extreme heat that hypersonic missiles are exposed to by traveling at high speeds in the atmosphere for most of their flight (unlike cruise missiles, which fly in the atmosphere at lower speeds, or ballistic missiles, which mainly fly above the atmosphere). Shielding hypersonic missiles’ sensitive electronics, understanding how various materials perform, and predicting aerodynamics at sustained temperatures as high as 3,000° Fahrenheit require extensive flight testing. Tests are ongoing, but failures in recent years have delayed progress.
- Both hypersonic and ballistic missiles are well-suited to operate outside potential adversaries’ antiaccess and area-denial (A2/AD), or “keep-out,” zones. The Department of Defense has developed a strategy to use accurate, long-range, high-speed missiles early in a conflict to neutralize the A2/AD zones being developed by potential adversaries, such as China and Russia. Both hypersonic missiles and ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable warheads could provide the combination of speed, accuracy, range, and survivability (the ability to reach a target without being intercepted) that would be useful in the military scenarios CBO considered. However, many missions do not require such rapid strikes. For those missions, less costly alternatives to both hypersonic and ballistic missiles exist, including subsonic cruise missiles. Hypersonic weapons would mainly be useful to address threats that were both well-defended and extremely time-sensitive.
- Hypersonic missiles would probably not be more survivable than ballistic missiles with maneuverable warheads in a conflict, unless the ballistic missiles encountered highly effective long-range defenses. Hypersonic missiles can neutralize long-range (midcourse) defenses because they fly inside the atmosphere, below the altitude where midcourse ballistic missile defenses typically operate. Hypersonic weapons can also maneuver unpredictably at high speeds to counter short-range defenses near a target, making it harder to track and intercept them. Ballistic missiles are also difficult to defend against, particularly if they are equipped with countermeasures to confuse midcourse missile defenses and maneuverable warheads to defeat short-range missile defenses. Only very effective long-range defenses would be likely to threaten ballistic missiles in midcourse; to date, no potential U.S. adversaries have deployed such defenses.
- Hypersonic missiles could cost one-third more to procure and field than ballistic missiles of the same range with maneuverable warheads. CBO estimates that buying 300 ground- or sea-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles with maneuverable warheads and sustaining the missile system for 20 years would cost a total of $13.4 billion (in 2023 dollars). The same number of comparable hypersonic missiles would cost about one-third more, $17.9 billion, CBO estimates. (Neither estimate includes the cost overruns that are often associated with technically challenging programs.) The higher costs for hypersonic missiles partly reflect the complexity of building systems that can withstand the heat of hypersonic flight.
Comparison of the Features and Limitations of Hypersonic Missiles and Alternatives
BMD = ballistic missile defense.
Data and Supplemental Information
- Data Underlying Figures and Tables
- A Presentation About U.S. Hypersonic Weapons and Alternatives February 28, 2023
- National Cruise Missile Defense: Issues and Alternatives February 9, 2021
- Options for Fielding Ground-Launched Long-Range Missiles February 11, 2020