As China, India, and France begin developing hypersonic weapons, we must ask: “Is a hypersonic weapon a threat or a game changer?” This question is crucial because it will determine the course of events in crisis scenarios. Hypersonics have the potential to disrupt city-sized targets and change the dynamics of war. But they also create new problems. First, they can be accidentally launched, and their range is limited. Second, the other side will not know what they’re up against.
While the possibility of hypersonic weapons is real, it’s important to realize that these weapons will likely not be a revolution. Even though they will produce theatre-level effects, these weapons aren’t likely to become widely used. They also pose significant technical and engineering challenges. The cost and complexity of such systems may prevent their widespread use. However, the potential benefits of such a weapon may outweigh the risks of conflict.
According to press reports, hypersonic missiles are rocket-launched weapons with a speed of Mach 5. They can also change direction mid-flight and withstand high levels of pressure. This makes hypersonic weapons a formidable strategic weapon. And they’re practically impossible to intercept. While China and Russia have been leading the development of hypersonic missiles, the U.S. is lagging behind.
The potential uses of such weapons also include the potential to disrupt existing missile defences. For example, ground-based radars are ineffective against hypersonic weapons because they operate at unusual altitudes. Further, these weapons can fly undetected for shorter distances. Therefore, these weapons have the potential to be a game changer. And, if these capabilities are developed and proven, we may be in for a great race between space and land.
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