Humanity breathed calmly again in the last decade of the 20th century when the cold war that faced the then Soviet Union and the United States, the two greatest powers of the time, came to an end. The calm lasted just three decades and the world is now facing a new arms race, this time starring hypersonic weapons.
New weapons systems can reach a speed of more than 20 times the speed of sound and circumvent existing defenses. Earlier this month the United States and Australia announced a new project called SCIFire to jointly develop a hypersonic weapon with a jet engine. The Australians boasted that in ten years they would have their hypersonic missiles.
Vladimir Ermakov, head of the Russian Chancellery for arms control, agrees that the new arms race is already underway, but clarifies that some countries are trying to intensify this technological competition on the grounds of the rivalry of the great powers. “The Americans clearly set out to achieve unilateral military advantage at all costs by following (former President Ronald) Reagan’s ideology of peace through force,” he said.
In the world, in addition to Australians, there are a dozen countries that seek to possess hypersonic weapons , not counting the great powers such as Russia, China and the United States.
Russia is leading the development of hypersonic weapons with the advanced Avangard system, already incorporated into its arsenal.
The Avangard is a complex equipped with an ICBM and a glider capable of circumventing the existing and developing anti-missile defenses of any adversary. Unlike traditional warheads, which follow a ballistic trajectory, Avangard glides in the dense layers of the atmosphere, at an altitude of tens of kilometers, with a speed that exceeds more than 20 times that of sound.
The European country also has its Kinzhal hypersonic missile, which with a range of 2,000 kilometers, develops a speed ten times higher than that of sound and can bypass all existing anti-missile shields. Added to this is the naval version called Tsirkon, which is in the final phase of testing.
Ermakov emphasized that Moscow was forced to develop such weapons to maintain strategic stability after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002, during the George W. Bush administration.
In recent years, the United States is pumping billions of dollars into its military programs to catch up with Russia. The diplomat attributed that vehement race to the humiliation Washington feels for being outmatched.
In fact, in this demonstration of technological muscle, China is also ahead of the North American country. Beijing unveiled its DF-17 hypersonic missile at a military parade in October 2019.
A few days ago, the US Government awarded a contract to the Northrop Grumman company to develop hypersonic missiles that would serve as targets to test the defenses of the Navy ships. The projectile would fly at almost 3,000 kilometers per hour, a speed three times slower than that of Russian missiles. The amount of the contract has not been disclosed.
In September, the US Under Secretary of Defense, David Norquist, claimed that his country was intensifying its race against time to obtain hypersonic weapons and planned more than 40 test launches by 2024. All evidence that the United States is stepping on the accelerator to catch up with its great geopolitical rivals .