When Russia claimed to have launched a hypersonic missile at Ukraine, destroying an ammunition stockpile located under a building, the defense industry definitely took notice. There were some initial questions raised as to whether or not it truly was the first use of a real hypersonic weapon in combat, but Joe Biden later came out and confirmed that our military agreed that they had managed the feat. Given the number of other countries who are working on similar programs, the Air Force is asking for some significant funding for our own hypersonic missile program in the next budget. And the President quickly agreed that we need to be investing more in the program. But the Air Force isn’t actually ready to spend that money yet for several complicated reasons. (Yahoo News)
The Air Force’s budget request for fiscal 2023 calls for more money to research hypersonic weapons, replenish its stocks of guided munitions, buy ship-killing missiles and air-launched cruise missiles, and further develop a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile.
The budget proposal, which the Biden administration released Monday, seeks to increase spending on developing hypersonic prototyping from the nearly $509 million lawmakers approved in fiscal 2022 to $577 million in 2023…
But the Air Force isn’t planning to procure any ARRWs [AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapons], which is the service’s leading hypersonic weapon program, in 2023. In a Monday briefing with reporters, Maj. Gen. James Peccia, deputy assistant secretary for budget, said the program is funded through 2023, and the service would reassess the program in future years.
The problem here is that the Pentagon isn’t even sure if they are going to move forward with a hypersonic missile testing program, citing problems encountered during previous testing. The last spending bill that was passed actually struck more than $160 from the ARRW program, transferring most of that money back into research and development. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall was quoted as saying “ARRW still has to prove itself.”
At the same time, battles over funding for other weapons programs continue, potentially pushing AARW further toward the back burner. These include a next-generation ICBM to replace the aging Minuteman III and new, extended-range cruise missiles. Unfortunately, both the ARRW and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) are reportedly not yet ready for prime time. The ARRW was previously scheduled to go to procurement this year, but issues raised during testing at Lockheed-Martin appear to have shoved the schedule back a bit.
These are worrisome developments when you consider that last summer, China launched a hypersonic missile that literally flew all the way around the world before releasing a hypersonic glide vehicle that entered the atmosphere and struck a target in a remote part of their country. With that sort of technology, they could hit a target anywhere on Earth and we probably don’t have anything fast enough to stop it on the way in. Heck, even North Korea claimed to have fired a hypersonic missile last September, though there are doubts as to its state of development and effectiveness. But they’re clearly getting closer.
Falling behind in this race could be disastrous. The concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that has kept us from a global thermonuclear war for so long sort of goes out the window if your adversary can blanket you with missiles before you have time to turn the keys in the launch silos. Let’s just hope that our military is further along than they are letting on and they’re just playing their cards close to the vest.