Tom Hoggins – Telegraph.co.uk June 6, 2019
The US Army has said that it will be ready to field hypersonic missiles and vehicle-mounted laser weapons in the next four years, as the latest technological arms race with Russia and China escalates.
Lieutenant General Neil Thurgood, head of the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, said that the army wants to mount 50-kilowatt ‘directed energy weapons’ on armored Stryker vehicles in field tests in 2021.
Thurgood said that the army is also looking at the development of a more powerful 100-kilowatt laser, but said the challenge is generating the required power levels.
“The vehicle it’s on is not the limiting factor,” Thurgood said according to Breaking Defense. “Right now we’re just trying to get to higher power.”
The army will also oversee the development of ‘hypersonic glide bodies’ that can travel at five times the speed of sound – or 3,853 miles per hour – to manoeuvre missiles.
The speed, agility and altitude of such super-fast missiles makes them difficult to track by conventional air defense systems.
Glide bodies have already been successfully flown in the US and now the military is looking into mass production and deployment.
“We have the responsibility to build the industrial base in the US,” Thurgood said. “We kind of know how to build these things already; now what I have to do is create a capability to build a lot of them.”
A ‘missile stack’ – from which the missile will be fired – will be bought by the Navy but can be used on army ground vehicles as well as ships. The Air Force will need to develop its own launcher to work on aircraft.
The army is looking to form a battery of four heavy trucks mounted with two hypersonic missile launchers each, with the target of being ready to deploy by 2023.
Thurgood said that the primary objective of both the energy weapons and hypersonic missiles is to test technology, tactics and training but will have a ‘residual combat capability’. Meaning they are ready to be used in combat if needed.
The announcement of the US Army’s accelerated efforts to develop more advanced weaponry comes just days after Russia released footage its own supersonic interceptor missile. The Russian Defense Ministry said its missile was test-launched from the Sary-Shagan training range in Kazakhstan.
“After a series of trials, the new interceptor missile confirmed its characteristics and successfully completed the task by striking an assigned target with precision,” said deputy commander of the missile defense unit Vladimir Sergiyenko.
Russia are believed to be the world leader in hypersonic missile technology, with experts believing that it will have missiles ‘war-ready’ by 2020.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said last month that while Russia may have the edge with hypersonic missiles, it should step up its efforts to develop defence systems against such weapons. “We understand that the world’s leading countries will develop such weapons sooner or later,” he said. “We must develop means to protect ourselves from such weapons before hypersonic weapons are put on combat alert.”
China, meanwhile, is said to be leading the US in the race to make its own hypersonic missiles field-ready, with senior US officials warning that the Chinese technology would defeat current US air defense systems.