Pentagon Will Move ‘Aggressively’ to Pursue Hypersonic Weapons
Photo: Stew Magnuson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Whether or not claims made by President Vladimir Putin that Russia has a hypersonic weapon capable of flying at Mach 10 for 2,000 kilometers are true, the Defense Department will be moving “aggressively” to develop its own version of the technology.
Gen. John E. Hyten, Strategic Command commander, declined to share with reporters what he knew about Russia’s true capabilities April 17 at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In March, Putin said Russia had developed the missile along with a robotic submarine that could deliver a nuclear payload.
“You should believe everything he said he was working on," Hyten said. He declined to say specifically whether the 2,000 kilometer, Mach 10 figures were valid, or what sensors and means are used to keep tabs on rivals’ hypersonic tests.
“We have observed Russia and China operating hypersonic missiles,” he said. “We watch it very closely and we also listen very closely," he added.
“None of what he said surprised me,” Hyten said about Putin.
Shortly after the assertion in March, Secretary of Defense James Mattis cast doubt on Putin’s statement. He said the capabilities Putin mentioned were “years away.”
In March at a defense industry conference, Mary Miller, who was performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, said there would be funding for a “national hypersonics initiative” that would include NASA along with the military.
She also acknowledged publicly that one of the two rivals — China and Russia — had surpassed the United States in the technology, although she did not say which of the two.
“They were essentially a fast follower and then they have taken it well beyond where we are currently. We are catching up and are at par in some areas. We just need to do more of this,” Miller said. “We need to certainly get it out faster.”
Hyten agreed: “There are certain areas where we have advantages on ... Russia and China on hypersonics. But what they have done that is significant is that they have done full-up integrated testing of those capabilities.”
Hyten said he believes the U.S. military will move out more aggressively on the technology.
After some failed tests there was a pause, he said. “We had a couple of failures, so we stopped and regrouped to look at the overall structure to make sure we understood the technology — what was working, what was not working — those kind of pieces,” he said.
“From my perspective, I would have just liked to have learned from that mistake and kept going,” he added. ‘When we start down a program like that I would just like us to fight through it, see through it, test fast, fail quickly, learn fast and get to the point where we have a great capability in the end.”
Hyten said he was not interested in putting nuclear payloads on hypersonic weapons, but he wants to arm them with conventional warheads. Having such a capability in the Pacific would give combatant commanders an advantage, he added.
Hyten said he put great faith in Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, who will spearhead the hypersonics effort.
“If the program is not aggressive right now, a year from now it is going to be aggressive, because Mike Griffin has had Secretary Mattis look him in the face and say, ‘We need to really go on hypersonics.’ That is pretty much all Mike Griffin needs.”