Russia/United States

Trump says U.S. is building ‘hypersonic missiles,’ but is that accurate?

By Jonathan Davis

Little-noticed by most of the mainstream media during his speech to the nation this week regarding U.S.-Iran confrontations, President Trump noted something that made several analysts perk up.

He intimated that the United States was actively building hypersonic missiles of the kind, presumably, that Russia has already deployed (Avantgard) and China is developing.

As the UK’s Daily Mail reported:

President Donald Trump told the nation Wednesday the U.S. was developing ‘many’ super-fast hypersonic missiles as he brandished U.S. missile capabilities even as he said Iran ‘appears to be standing down.’ 

‘Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast,’ Trump said during his speech to the nation from the Grand Foyer of the White House.

‘Under construction are many hypersonic missiles,’ he continued. ‘The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent,’ Trump said. 

Now, presuming that the president was not using hyperbole or divulging closely-held top secret intelligence, we have to assume that the U.S. is set to enter the hypersonic missile community, which would consist of … two countries (officially).

Is this accurate?

We know that one of the president’s first defense budgets was the allocation of ’emergency’ funds — about a billion dollars — to the Air Force for rapid development of a hypersonic glide vehicle. This came on top of existing U.S. hypersonic development.

In July, National Defense magazine reported that the Pentagon was accelerating its hypersonic weapons development (faster, I am assuming, than the preexisting rapid timetable:

Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has been an outspoken advocate for hypersonic weapon research and development.

“Hypersonic capabilities remain a major department-wide modernization focus, and DoD is accelerating hypersonic systems development and demonstration,” he said in March during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence and emerging threats and capabilities.

The Defense Department requested $2.6 billion toward hypersonics in President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request and is nearly doubling its long-term investments from $6 billion to $11.2 billion over the next five years, Griffin noted.

“We have significantly increased flight testing, as we intend to conduct approximately 40 flight tests over the next few years, to accelerate the delivery of capability to our warfighters years earlier than previously planned,” he said in his prepared testimony.

For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force are developing two hypersonic vehicle prototypes that are due to fly by the end of the year, said Steven Walker, DARPA’s director.

Extra fund strictly for development, or development and procurement? And notice the Pentagon expected to test a flight vehicle prototype by the end of this past year.

And in October, Defense News reported that the U.S. was “building a hypersonic missile industry.” The site reported:

The Defense Department is making headway to build a hypersonic weapons industry in the Untied States, and the Army is spearheading the manufacturing of a key component that will be used by all the services — the Common Hypersonic Glide Body.

The Army’s plan is to field a long-range hypersonic weapon — capable of flying at five times the speed of sound — that will launch from a mobile ground platform by fiscal 2023.

The Pentagon is in a race to develop offensive hypersonic weapons as well as defensive capabilities against hypersonic threats in an effort to offset the production of hypersonic missiles in China and Russia.

The service has awarded a contract to Dynetics Technical Solutions, based in Huntsville, Alabama, to be the first to manufacture a set of hypersonic glide body prototypes, while Lockheed Martin will serve as the weapon system integrator.

The Army is in charge of manufacturing the Common Hypersonic Glide Body for all of the armed services.

While there’s no specific timeline, Dynetics will spend roughly a year learning how to make glide bodies from Sandia National Laboratories, Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, the director of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, told Defense News in an interview a few days before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

The $1 billion for the Air Force could be money to continue development — which is most likely — or it could be funding to actually build hypersonic missiles. Or it could be both.

What seems most unlikely is that Trump ‘slipped up’ when he mentioned that we’re already building these systems. You can bet Russia and China didn’t miss that.

Now, he could be mentioning the construction of prototypes — entirely plausible — but nonetheless, that would be construction of hypersonic vehicles.

Either way, it seems as though the U.S. is a very short while away from matching Russia’s hypersonic capabilities.

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