The March 1 announcement by President Vladimir Putin that Russia has viable hypersonic weapons was finally accepted and taken seriously by the United States. Now, the American military has placed new urgency on hypersonic weapons development.
In a news piece released by Sputnik News, US Navy Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe claimed that the Americans are developing a hypersonic weapon. This weapon’s description appears to be of a similar category as Russia’s Avangard hypersonic weapon delivery system. Sputnik continues (emphasis added):
Speaking at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium earlier this month, Wolfe explained that the US seeks the goal of being able to hit any target around the globe at any given moment within a time span of one hour. To do so, they need a hypersonic weapon with a booster that can be launched from any platform.
And by “any” they mean they don’t really know where they would launch it from. Possible variants of the weapon include types launched from surface ships and submarines. Therefore, the development team uses the most stringent requirement: underwater launch from a submarine.
“From a Navy perspective, we’re developing the booster that our hypersonic glide body will go on, and we’re doing it though in such a way that we’re taking the most stringent requirement — which is underwater launch — and so as we develop it we will do it in such a way that as the bigger Navy comes through what platform or platforms they actually want to deploy this on, the launcher and the glide body will be able to survive any of those environments,” Wolfe said.
According to the admiral, the future missile will not only be used by the Navy, but by all other branches of the military, too.
“It will be for all the services as they figure out what platform they want to go deploy a capability like this on,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe also announced that SSP has received an order to develop tactical nuclear weapons in order to catch up with Russia’s recently announced advanced missile systems.
The “low-yield” nuclear weapons “will be a direct counter to what Russia believes they’ve got to date that we do not have,” Wolfe said. “We will have that capability in direct response to Russia.”
According to the admiral, SSP will simply reuse its old W76 nuclear warhead program from the 1970s. The reason why Washington decided to blow off the dust from such an old invention is that the US is banned from testing new nuclear weapons, and most components for the W76 were already tested prior to the international ban.
“We just about tested everything that we need to test at one point or another for that program (W76), which is what gives us the confidence that when we go to do these, the system will work,” Wolfe said. “We don’t need to go do a test with this; we’ve got all the right models from all the years of operating the 76 and the 76-1, which we’re deploying now.”
“We are 100 percent confident that when we put those out there, they’re going to work as designed,” he added.
However, the problem the US military is having isn’t the warhead, it’s the carrier missile. The old Trident D5 missiles are no longer being produced, and since the US continues to periodically test D5s to check if they are still reliable, they will sooner or later run out of the missiles, Wolfe acknowledged.
To tackle this situation, SSP will have to develop a new missile, dubbed the Trident D5 LE2, which must be shoehorned into the old size parameters. As a result, the engines will have to remain the same as the old ones. What little the engineers would be able to change is mostly electronics.
“The motors, like I showed you, they’re going to stay the same because if you think about it, tube diameter’s the same, the height’s the same, and there’s other requirement for me to go to. So that’s going to stay the same. But then all of the front-end stuff, the equipment section, the electronics, that will all be new,” Wolfe told reporters after his speech.
At first the reaction of the West to the Russian announcements was incredulous and without serious belief, at least at the public levels. However, the succeeding announcements by President Putin and other authorities in Russia, plus gradually leaking photos and videos showed that the hypersonic systems are indeed a reality.
The United States, to be sure, has been developing hypersonic flight technology, but it was long assumed that there was no near competition in the field. However not only Russia, but China, are showing that they are in the game as well.
The term “hypersonic” refers to a projectile or aircraft that can maintain a speed of greater than Mach 5. This has been considered something of a technological “holy grail” because it is extremely difficult to make use of an air-breathing engine that can work at such speeds without failure.
The Avangard boasts a cruise speed of Mach 20, or 15,350 miles per hour. This is close to four miles per second. Such a projectile is extremely difficult to intercept, and Russia boasts that it is unstoppable by any known weapons technology. The “little brother” to the Avangard is the Kinzhal, which also moves at a super fast Mach 10. Both systems are maneuverable while in flight.