Russia and China Are Building Hypersonic Missiles Faster Than U.S., Officials Warn

Russia and China are building ultrafast missile technology at a quicker speed than the U.S., officials from Congress and the Pentagon have warned.

Both Russia and China have allegedly tested the hypersonic missile, a weapon that moves 10 times faster than the speed of sound, over the past year, officials note. China also recently announced plans to build the world’s fastest wind tunnel, which will help test new designs of ultrafast airplanes. But experts say that the tunnel also could be used to test hypersonic missile technology.

Lawmakers underscored that the U.S. does not have a comparable technology and is falling behind in the development of hypersonic missiles. Last week, John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress that the U.S. would have a hard time responding if Beijing or Moscow were to employ these weapons. The only way the U.S. could counter these would be through the use of nuclear weapons, Hyten stressed.

Meanwhile, a report published last year by the Rand Corporation stated that hypersonic missiles are a new type of threat that can surpass almost all missile defense systems, and that countries like China, Russia and the United States must act quickly to stop these new weapons from proliferating over the next decade.

“Hypersonic missiles can be maneuverable and travel at approximately 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, or 1 to 5 miles per second. In more familiar terms, these missiles fly six to more than 25 times as fast as modern airliners,” the report noted. “They fly at unusual altitudes— between a few tens of kilometers and 100 kilometers. These characteristics of high speed, maneuverability and unusual altitudes make them both challenging to the best missile defenses now envisioned and, until the last minutes of flight, unpredictable as to their targets.”

Officials say the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency are working on developing new sensors that would be able to detect these weapons. But they are still in the prototype phase.

President Donald Trump has attempted to develop strong ties with Russian and Chinese leadership, despite slapping China with a new set of trade tariffs. Nevertheless, military officials have taken a less conciliatory view on these countries, naming them as the top geopolitical threats in the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

"It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions," the strategy indicated. 

Hyten also recently told Congress that the U.S. needs new, low-yield nuclear weapons for the purpose of deterring Russia. Recently, U.S. Special Forces began training in Alaska to prepare for a potential military confrontation with Russia in the Arctic region.