Experts in military warfare refer to hypersonic weapons as the next great thing in intercontinental warfare. Emerging weapons that can carry nuclear or conventional ammunition will be seen zigzagging through space at speeds up to five miles per hour to outsmart interceptors and early warning satellites. Experts say the super-fast weapons are ideal for surprise attacks.
Trump boasted about his “super dupers” and called the planned weapon Hydrosonic, a brand for electric toothbrushes. It requested that the Pentagon spend $ 3.2 Billion on hypersonic weapon research last year. This is $ 600 M more than the previous year. As President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. assumes command of the nation’s military, he will need to consider continuing the defense work that was done during the Trump years.
Independent experts have now examined the technical performance and concluded that the claimed features are more fake than real. Science & Global Security will publish your analysis this week.
David Wright, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist and author of the new analysis, spoke out about the superweapon in an interview.
He said, “There are many claims but not many numbers.” “When you add the numbers, the claims become absurd.”
Officials from the military called the paper impertinent and claimed it was based upon outdated data. They refused to release any new findings.
“Because hypersonic technologies are classified, we aren’t at liberty to discuss the current capabilities,” Jared Adams, the chief spokesperson for the Agency for Advanced Defense Research Projects, said in an email.
Richard L. Garwin (physicist, long-standing advisor to federal government), described the paper as “very important and good”. He said that he had also given similar criticisms to defense officials about hypersonic warheads.
James M. Acton is a nuclear analyst at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He described the paper as “serious and credible.”
Dr. Wright is a member of MIT’s Nuclear Safety and Policy Laboratory and performed the analysis together with Cameron L. Tracy (a materials scientist with Union of Concerned Scientists), a private group based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, that supports arms control.
Hypersonic vehicles can fly more than five times as fast as sound, or up to a dozen miles faster than jetliners. The warheads fly into space using a long-range missile. They then descend quickly into the atmosphere to maneuver, care for and move around. They are basically blunt gliders. Their wedge-shaped bodies have a curved top surface that gives them the lift force of an aircraft wing.
Dr. Wright and Dr. Tracy base their analysis on the Hypersonic Tech Vehicle 2, an experimental warhead created by the Air Force, Darpa and the Air Force. These findings can also be applied to other American prototypes as well as devices being developed in China, Russia, and other countries.
Computer simulations used the physics of moving bodies as well as public information about Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, to create plausible flight paths. The team focused on the most important phases of hypersonic flight, which are when the vehicle zooms through an atmosphere before reaching a destination.
According to the experts, the computer modeling of the weapon fills in the gaps between the public and military systems that detect and defeat weapons from distant locations.
They discovered that the weapon does not outsmart interceptors or early warning satellites. Space-based sensors of today can track the fiery turns and twists of the weapon’s flight through the atmosphere.
Surprisingly, considering the gun’s reputation for being fast, they claim that their analysis has shown that it can fly intercontinental distances faster than warheads or ballistic missiles. These tactics are used in war to help attackers evade interceptors and decrease warning time.
Dr. Tracy and Dr. Wright concluded that the new weapon proposed is evolutionary, but not revolutionary.
The authors compare their findings with military claims in their work. They cite, for example, the 2019 Senate testimony by General John E. Hyten (an Air Force officer responsible for US Strategic Command which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons), as an example. General Hyten stated that the time it takes for hypersonic warheads to carry out an attack could be half as long as standard missiles. He said, “It could even be less.”
According to the experts, the conflict between public opinions on hypersonic warheads’ actual capabilities and those of the public arise from the overrated claims made by officials to “justify” the expense necessary for their development.
Half a dozen hypersonic weapon designs are currently being studied by the American military. Dr. Wright stated that the lack of information on how they work and flight data makes the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle the most well-known prototype arms. It offers the best window into the current status and potential future.
The analysis of the team focuses on a fundamental physics problem they believe is causing doubt about the new type of weapon.
This is what aeronautical engineers refer to as the ratio of lift and drag. This is the ratio of lift force to air resistance. The lifting forces a rapidly moving aerodynamic body upwards, and the resistance attempts to stop the forward movement. In the worst case, this can lead to a standstill.
Dr. Wright stated that the team used a lift-to-drag ratio of 2.6 to analyze the hypersonic vehicle. Jetliners and other birds, however, have a ratio of approximately eight times. The warheads are, therefore, nondescript fliers.
He said that the limited ability of the glowing, glowing hot surfaces to generate significant lift force and not create drag makes it difficult for the weapon to fly long distances over complex flight paths.
“Unless they find a magical way of keeping these systems running,” Dr. Wright said, “they’re going have problems.”
Experts expect that the Biden administration will focus on arms control, and it is probable that Trump’s plans to develop hypersonic warheads for the US will be examined. Experts in defense discuss hypersonic weapons as part of early talks with Russia, China and other countries. There is also the possibility of imposing restrictions.
Ned Price, the spokesperson for the Biden transition group, declined to comment about the hypersonic warheads problem.
Hans Binnendijk, an ex-official at the National Security Council, wrote last month that Joe Biden would have an experienced team to resolve these complex problems. He suggested ways to revive arms control. It takes creativity and time to succeed.