Military experts call hypersonic warheads the next important thing in transcontinental warfare. They saw the emerging arm, which could deliver nuclear or conventional ammunition, like compressing simultaneously up to five miles per second while zigzagging through the atmosphere to fool early warning satellites and machines. intercept fly. Experts say that these super-fast weapons are capable of surprise attacks.
President Trump bragged for its “super-dupers”, it even mentions the planned weapon “hydrosonic”, a brand of electric toothbrushes. Last year, his budget required the Pentagon to spend $ 3.2 billion on hypersonic weapons research, an increase of $ 600 million from the previous year’s request. And when President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr takes command of the nation’s military, he will have to consider whether to maintain the defense work done during the Trump years.
Now, independent experts have studied the technical capabilities of the planned weapon and have concluded that its advertised features are more virtual than reality. Their analysis will be published this week in Science & Global Security.
In an interview, David Wright, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the new analysis, called a superweapon an illusion.
“There are a lot of statements and not a lot of numbers,” he said. “If you put in numbers, you will find that those statements are meaningless.”
Military officials called the article unreliable, saying it was based on outdated data. But they refuse to disclose the new findings.
“Due to the classified nature of ultrasound technologies, we do not have the right to publicly discuss the current possibilities,” said Jared Adams, chief spokesperson for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, said in an email.
Richard L. Garwin, a longtime physicist and adviser to the federal government, calls this article “very good and important.” He added that he made similar criticisms of hypersonic warheads to defense officials.
James M. Acton, a nuclear analyst at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the article “serious, credible and important work”.
Dr. Wright is affiliated with the MIT Nuclear Security and Policy Laboratory and did the analysis with Cameron L. Tracy, a materials scientist at the Union of Interested Scientists, a group private sector headquartered in Cambridge, Mass, often favors arms control.
By definition, supersonic vehicles fly at five times the speed of sound – or dozens of times faster than a jet. The warheads fly into space atop a traditional long-range missile but then quickly enter the atmosphere for storage, upgrades and maneuverability. They’re basically stout roller coaster. The curved upper surface of the wedge body gives them some of the lift of the aircraft wing.
Dr. Wright and Dr. Tracy based their analysis on supersonic Technological Vehicle 2 – an experimental warhead developed by the Air Force and Darpa. Their findings also apply to other US prototypes, as well as devices being developed by China, Russia and other countries, they say.
Physics-based computer simulations of moving objects and public revelations about the Hypersonic 2 Tech Vehicle to model its most plausible flight paths. The team has been involved in characteristic phases of supersonic flight – when the car is launched through the atmosphere and then plunges down to hit its target.
The two experts say their computer models fill a public gap in the weapon’s overall performance as well as its interoperability with existing military systems to detect and defeat a weapon. Launched from distant locations.
In their article, they argued that the weapon basically failed to bypass early warning and intercept satellites. Current generations of space-based sensors, for example, they report, will be able to track a weapon’s fiery twisting and spinning movements for much of the journey through the atmosphere.
And surprisingly, given their reputation for weapon speed, they say that their analysis shows it will fly intercontinental distances slower than ballistic missiles and low-flight warheads called funds. leadership decline. During the war, such tactics were seen as a good way for the attacker to evade the interceptors and reduce the warning time.
Dr. Wright and Dr. Tracy conclude that the best visualized new weapon is “evolutionary – not revolutionary”.
In their articles, the authors contrast their findings with military claims. For example, they cite a 2019 Senate testimony by General John E. Hyten, the then-Air Force officer in charge of the U.S. Strategic Command, the nation’s nuclear missile control body. General Hyten said that the time it takes for a hypersonic warhead to complete an attack, “may be half” that of a standard missile. “It could be less,” he added.
The two experts conclude that the conflict between the public’s views on hypersonic warheads and their actual capabilities, arose from exaggerated official statements meant to “justify the cost needed”. for their development and deployment.
The US military is currently working on half a dozen hypersonic weapons. Dr Wright said the limited amount of publicly available information about their flight operations and data made the Hypersonic Tech Vehicle famously the best window out there on current state and future potential. of the prototype weapon.
He noted that the team’s analysis focused on a fundamental problem of physics that he thinks has raised doubts about the new weapon in general.
That’s what aeronautical engineers call the lift ratio. The esoteric term is a measure of lift strength versus drag. The elevator pushes an aerodynamic body that is accelerating and the drag in the atmosphere tries to counteract forward movement, worst of all, leading to a stop.
Dr. Wright said the team’s analysis of supersonic vehicles uses a drag ratio of 2.6. By contrast, jet pilots and some birds have this ratio approximately eight times higher. In other words, the best warheads are unimpressive ones.
The limited power of curved, blistering surfaces to create a substantial lift without generating much drag undermines that weapons can fly long distances in complex trajectories, he said.
“Unless they magically find a way to keep these systems working,” says Dr. Wright, “they are going to have problems. “
Policy experts expect the Biden administration to focus on strengthening arms control and it looks like the Trump administration’s plans for hypersonic warheads will be closely monitored. Hypersonic weapons are among the topics defense experts say government officials will tackle during initial negotiations with Russia and China, including the possibility of seeking to impose measures. curb.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the Biden transition group, declined to comment on the hypersonic warhead problem.
“President-elect Joe Biden will have an experienced team to deal with these complex issues,” Hans Binnendijk, a former National Security Council official, wrote last month suggesting ways to Increase weapon control. “But it will take time and creativity to succeed.”