The US is lagging in a new arms rush to develop powerful hypersonic missiles which travel at 5 times the sound’s speed and can navigate to avoid defenses, according to US Space Force Vice Chief in charge of the Space Operations General David Thompson. “In terms of hypersonic programs, we’re not as far forward as the Chinese or the Russians,” Thompson stated at Halifax International Security Forum.

The US Air Force, Navy, Army are all working on hypersonic missiles, but Thompson admits, “we have a great deal of catching up to perform really soon.” “For several years, Chinese have had an extremely ambitious hypersonic program.”

China’s demonstrated capability to launch a hypersonic glide vehicle into space which can orbit the planet as well as reenter the atmosphere before being detected by US missile-defense systems is a source of concern for the US. Although China claimed that the vehicle it deployed was an unarmed demonstration, US officials warned that these weapons might be loaded with conventional or even nuclear warheads, making them a destabilizing strategic capability.

“The world has just gotten a lot more difficult,” Thompson remarked. A hypersonic glide vehicle, he said, is like a “magical snowball.” “Normally, if I’m throwing the snowball at you, you can tell whether or not it’s going to strike you the second the snowball leaves my hand.”

For decades, strategic warning systems have worked in this manner. “A hypersonic missile really changes the game,” he added. The trajectory of the hypersonic missile is unpredictable. “Combine that with a partial orbital bombardment system, and I’m going to toss a snowball around the world that will come in and smack you in the head’s back.”

“And so that’s the kind of stuff we’re dealing with: you don’t have that predictability anymore.” As a result, any launch, irrespective of where it’s going, now has the capacity to be a threat,” Thompson explained. “And even if you can follow that maneuvering weapon, you won’t know where it’s heading until late in the flight since it’s maneuvering all the time… “And you don’t know if it’s an attack,” he added. “You don’t find out the target till the final possible moment.” As a result, the strategic warning game changes.”

Thompson did not indicate whether the Chinese are working on a partial orbital bombardment system, which is a technology created by the Soviet Union (USSR) in the 1960s for nuclear weapons deployment in space.

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