Pentagon warns that the US is falling behind to China in hypersonic missile race

An X-51A under the wing of a B-52 at Edwards Air Force Base, July 2009.

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An X-51A under the wing of a B-52 at Edwards Air Force Base, July 2009.
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Wikimedia commons

  • Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said at two congressional hearings that China is beating the US when it comes to hypersonic missile development.
  • He also said that the only way the US could win a war against China was through superior technology, and that the US needed to invest more in new projects to regain its technological edge.
  • The US Air Force awarded a contract worth up to $1 billion with Lockheed Martin to develop a “hypersonic conventional strike weapon.”

Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, made some worrying admissions this week about China’s growing military capabilities, and the US’ decline in technological advances.

“Our adversaries have taken advantage of what I have referred to as a holiday for the United States,” Griffin said Wednesday, referring to the West’s victory over its communist rivals in the Cold War. The Pentagon official was speaking at a hearing for the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

“China has understood fully how to be a superpower,” Griffin said. “We gave them the playbook and they are executing.”

One problem discussed was anti-access/area denial through the use of hypersonic weapons – missiles or glide vehicles that fly at mach 5 or above, making them so fast that they can bypass almost all current missile defense systems.

“China has fielded or can field … hypersonic delivery systems for conventional prompt strike than can reach out thousands of kilometers from the Chinese shore, and hold our carrier battle groups or our forward deployed forces … at risk,” he said.

He also added that the US does not have a weapon that can similarly threaten the Chinese, and that the US has no defenses against China’s hypersonic missiles.

“We, today, do not have systems which can hold them at risk in a corresponding manner, and we don’t have defenses against those systems,” Griffin said, adding that “should they choose to deploy them we would be, today, at a disadvantage.

The statements echo similar warnings that Griffin told the House Armed Services Committee a day before. In that hearing, Griffin said that hypersonic weapons were “the most significant advance” made by the US’ adversaries.

“We will, with today’s defensive systems, not see these things coming,” he said Tuesday.

China has already made huge gains over the US when it comes to hypersonic glide vehicles. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said that Russia successfully tested an “invincible” hypersonic cruise missile.

Months after Putin’s announcement, the US Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin with a $1 billion contract to create what is calls “hypersonic conventional strike weapon.”

Boeing made a hypersonic vehicle similar to a cruise missile called the X-51 Waverider which first flew in 2010. The device flew mach 5.1 for 6 minutes during one test.