The U.S. is renewing its arms race with China following the communist nation’s development of hypersonic missile technology which China claims are years ahead of any American development.
With hypersonic weapons becoming the focus in the future of warfare, top U.S. defence contractors are now competing to develop the technology. In hopes of winning billions in defence contracts, the defence contractors are hoping to capitalize on the military’s renewed interest in advanced missile technology.
Concerns that the U.S. is lagging behind its Chinese and Russian counterparts have spurred the weapons manufacturing industry to develop an array of hypersonic weapons for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.
According to American Military News, Lockheed Martin is currently in the lead with key programs that aim to deliver prototypes capable of being launched from planes, submarines, and ground-based vehicles. The company is reportedly aiming to deliver prototypes as early as the first half of next year.
Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are also joining the race to develop missiles that fly at more than five times the speed of sound.
“It’s all about making sure that we have more and more capability and classes of capability in hypersonic weapons,” said Jay Pitman, the executive in charge of Lockheed’s missile weapons development division. “That will enhance the strategic deterrence that we are able to provide.”
According to the publication, Pentagon officials estimate that the Navy and Army programs, which share a common missile, could cost a combined $28.5 billion.
Despite interest in hypersonic missile technology, critics question the viability and utility of the new class of military hardware. The most vocal criticism is coming from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which argues that the weapons in development may not offer better performance than existing ballistic missile systems – and warned that the global arms race could further destabilize international politics and launch the U.S. into a new Cold War.
American Military News reported:
The pursuit of the weapons by strategic rivals in some ways evokes the tensions of the Cold War, when fears abounded that a conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union could bring about global annihilation via nuclear missiles. It also was a lucrative epoch for defense contractors.
But just how much hypersonic weapons will alter the global balance of power remains a matter of debate. Some observers see a risk that the weapons’ high speed and unpredictable flight paths could lead to miscalculations that may escalate conflicts, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Others argue that hypersonic weapons do little to alter the dynamic between the U.S., Russia and China, because the countries already have enough nuclear missiles to overwhelm an enemy’s defenses, the group said.
Until the technology progresses, it’s unclear precisely how big a boon it will be for top U.S. defense contractors. Beyond near-term plans to deliver hypersonic weapons through a handful of development programs, Pentagon officials have made few decisions about how many and what type of weapons they plan to pursue longer term.
Comparisons to the Cold War abound, as the hypersonic weapons technology bears some similarities to the nuclear arms race between the United States and Soviet Russia in the mid-20th century.
In recognition of these fears, the five nuclear superpowers issued a rare joint press release on Monday to reassert that there would be no winners in the event of a nuclear war, Rebel News reported. It stands to reason, therefore, that a similar promise of “mutually assured destruction” could be in effect if every superpower in the 21st century develops weapons capable of annihilating one another in tandem.