Hypersonic weapons


What are they? 

Cruise missiles constitute the first kind of hypersonic weapon. Hypersonic cruise missiles are designed to approach their targets at relatively low altitudes, travelling at least five times the speed of sound, and able to maneuver. The second type of hypersonic weapon is the glide vehicle platform, which is launched from a rocket. Hypersonic weapons are important because they can be used to successfully deter adversaries from starting war because there are no effective countermeasures in place to shoot down these weapons.

Who has them?

Russia has fielded hypersonic missiles on ships, aircraft and long-range missiles based on the presumption that their current inventories of conventional and nuclear-armed missiles can be successfully shot down by American missile defense systems. Russia partners with India and France on hypersonic technology. 

China is also fielding hypersonic weapons, to include using hypersonic gliders to transport the missile commonly known as the Guam Killer. China has conducted many more hypersonic tests compared to the United States. 

The United States is currently developing offensive standard glide vehicles and corresponding high-speed engine development configurations needed to obtain maximum thrust and propulsion to engage targets. These hypersonic weapons are or will be able to be launched from submarines, military surface vessels, and long-range ballistic missiles. 

There are roughly 50 sites scattered throughout the United States that work on hypersonic related matters, including one major location in eastern Micronesia that has undersea communications cables linked to Guam. The U.S. has been partnering with Japan on hypersonic weapons development as well. 

Why hypersonic weapons constitute a risk to American national security

The existence of conventional and nuclear-armed hypersonic weapons creates a huge potential vulnerability to American military bases and assets because these armaments are highly dangerous because of the destruction that they can bring about by virtue of how much damage an incoming missile travelling several times the speed of sound can create upon impact.

The United States currently does not have the ability to shoot down incoming hypersonic missiles because current missile defense systems are not capable of immediately identifying and shooting down weapons travelling at such fast speeds, relatively low altitudes, and with high maneuverability. 

Why this is important to Guam and the Northern Marianas

Our Chamorro Pacific Islander civilization should be asking several questions regarding hypersonic weapons and what’s taking place in China and Russia. For example, will hypersonic weapons eventually be stored at Big Navy or up at Andersen? Will Tinian be one future home to hypersonic weapons? 

Will the future presence of hypersonic weapons create the conditions in the Marianas that will bring about increased risk from the perspective of being an even more important target of the Chinese and the Russian military? How will Mariana islanders and the public be protected from accidents occurring if hypersonic weapons are brought to the Marianas? 

What are the Guam and CNMI congressmen doing to anticipate future introductions of hypersonic weapons into the environment? What environmental risks will be created from having to store, support and train for the use, deployment, and employment of hypersonic weapons? 

THAAD doesn’t cut it

Our Chamorro Pacific Islander civilization has the incentive to understand that the THAAD missile defense system located in northern Guam does not have the ability to necessarily identify and track a low altitude missile headed toward the island, approaching Ritidian at five times the speed of sound.  

The United States has yet to field a proven and fully operational counter-hypersonic missile defense system. The shore-based Aegis missile defense system planned from is also not capable of successfully shooting down an incoming hypersonic missile headed toward Sumay or Ritidian. 

The United States does not have the proper sensors positioned in space to effectively identify and track something moving at such high speeds. The Mariana Islands, therefore, remain in a precarious position should our blue continent civilization ever be attacked. 

Thus our Pacific Islander civilization would be very well served to have future discussions on what can or cannot be done to survive a potential hypersonic missile attack now. It seems that at present, it would be nearly impossible for our Chamorro people to adequately seek cover if missiles travelling at hypersonic speeds were headed toward Guam or the Northern Marianas. 

The key point here is that our Marianas Islands chain is relatively near China and Russia, so if these weapons were ever to be used, Guam and the Northern Marianas would be a high priority target because of the enormous amounts of military assets, weapons, personnel, and resources that are confined to a relatively small area. 

This fact provides the incentive for the Chinese to seriously consider using hypersonic weapons to attack Guam and the northern islands if China makes the decision to invade Taiwan. Attacking Guam would be done to stop and prevent the United States from attempting to access or come close to the fighting that would take place in Taiwan, enabling the Chinese better chances to finish the job. 

Rick Arriola Perez | Author
Rick Arriola Perez is a U.S. military veteran who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bank of Hawaii, and the government of Guam. He holds several degrees including ones from UCLA and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Rick is passionate about national security and foreign affairs in the Pacific Asia region and runs a blogsite called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For more information, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.

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