World War 3 warning: Xi, Putin and Trump are in a hypersonic race (Image: GETTY)
Nuclear attack threat: $6bn spending on hypersonic weapons could trigger World War 3
TERRIFYING hypersonic weapons are “blurring the line” between nuclear and conventional warfare, cranking up the risk of devastating future wars, a military analysis has said.
By CIARAN MCGRATH
PUBLISHED: 08:35, Sat, Aug 24, 2019
UPDATED: 09:38, Sun, Aug 25, 2019
And the research, published by Jane’s by IHS Markit, highlighted the astronomical sums being spent by Russia, China and United States on hypersonics – with the US currently lagging behind despite having spent as much money as the other two combined. The study suggests the balance of power is being distorted because nuclear weapons are “downsizing”, while conventional weapons, including hypersonics, are becoming more powerful. Rahul Udoshi, analyst at Jane’s, told Express.co.uk: “As hypersonic weapons fly at extremely high speeds and some are manoeuvrable, they are more likely to disrupt the international offense-defense balance of technology, increasingly blurring the line between nuclear and conventional weapons.
“Striking virtually anywhere in the world within an hour means these weapons affect the perceptions of strategic stability and further risk crisis escalation over ambiguity of warhead types.”
Russia’s Skyfall missile, which is thought to have malfunctioned during testing earlier this month with a consequent release of radioactive material, is a nuclear-powered hypersonic missile which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, for example.
All three superpowers are currently investing heavily in hypersonics, the analysis warns.
So far, Jane’s estimates the US has spent more than $3.3 billion for the research and development of hypersonic technologies and weapons, with a further 2020 budget request for $2.6 billion.
Russia is thought to have spent more than $1.1 billion covering the Avangard, 3M22 Tsirkon and Kinzhal programs.
However, Russia’s spend on hypersonic weapons is not expected to rise significantly because the Kinzhal, a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile Moscow claims has a range of 1,200 miles, is already in service, while the Tsirkon and Avangard are close to entering service.
Meanwhile, Chinese funding for hypersonic weapons is estimated to be more than Russia, with in excess of $1.5 billion spent on programs such as the DF-ZF and the Starry Sky-2.
The DF-ZF, a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying nuclear payloads, is expected to be operational by next year, while Starry Sky, a hypersonic aircraft which will be capable of carrying nuclear missiles at six times the speed of sound, should be operational by 2025.
US army secretary Ryan D McCarthy said with reference to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the landmark INF treaty with Russia, said: “With respect to the INF ranges in particular, we’re looking at where can we first find opportunities.
“Clearly, hypersonics, if you put a ballistic warhead on a hypersonic missile.
Map of world’s nuclear weapons (Image: GETTY)
Speaking in June, Frank St John, the executive vice president at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said: “With hypersonic capabilities being a national security priority, Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force are accelerating the maturation and fielding of a hypersonic weapon system.
“Lockheed Martin is proud to join the US Air Force on this important initiative.”
Unlike Russia, China will maintain high levels of spending on hypersonic technologies as it takes the current programmes to their conclusion, the report says.
Mr Udoshi said: “Currently, we see Russia and China both leading research and developmental work with considerable funding, suggesting that the US has somehow fallen behind these countries.
“However, this may change in the near term, given the existing US programmes’ priority and commitment.”
Last week it was reported that the US is developing its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), while defence secretary Mark Esper told Fox News he anticipated the country would be ready to deploy such a weapon in “a couple of years”.