Hypersonic Weapons: The Perfect Tool For Asymmetrical Warfare

Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

As recently confirmed in a debate at the Brookings Institute by the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, “there are military areas in which the United States maintains a technological advantage [over Russia and China], others in which there is substantial parity, and others in which the United States is lagging behind, revealing a technological gap with its peer competitors.

The last point applies to weapons systems designed to operate at hypersonic speed. Let us start with the simple and pragmatic definition offered by The National Interest of hypersonic vehicles and weapons:

A hypersonic vehicle is one that moves through the atmosphere at a minimum speed of five times that of sound, or Mach 5. A hypersonic cruise missile travels continuously through the air employing a special high-powered engine. A hypersonic glide vehicle [HGV] is launched into space atop a ballistic missile, after which it maneuvers through the upper reaches of the atmosphere until it dives towards its target. Both vehicle types can carry either conventional or nuclear weapons.

As we can see, we are speaking here about technological developments that require money and scientific structures of the highest level to achieve such significant and complex results. The difficulty of implementing systems of such complexity is very well explained by Defense Review:

One of DR’s primary questions about the Russian and Chinese HAA/HGV [Hypersonic Attack Aircraft/Hypersonic Glide Vehicle] tech is whether or not the vehicles generate a plasma field/shield around it that can effectively camouflage the vehicle and/or disrupt an incoming high-powered laser beam, and thus avoid both detection and destruction during its flight. Russian scientists and military aircraft designers/developers have been experimenting with plasma field generation tech since the late 1970’s, so one would think they’re pretty far along by now. Oh, and let’s not forget China’s recent development of a new ultra-thin, lightweight “tunable” UHF microwave radar-absorbing stealth/cloaking material for both manned and unmanned combat aircraft and warships. The hits just seem to keep on coming. Its enough to drive a military defense analyst to drink.

Another area of complexity concerns the communication between the hypersonic flight carrier and and its land-based components, especially if the re-entry vehicle is to be maneuvered remotely.

The fundamental component in performing a hypersonic flight naturally lies in the engines, used to reach speeds higher than Mach 7. There are ongoing studies by all of these countries concerning scramjet engines, essential for the purposes of producing hypersonic weapons. By employing a scramjet engine, and mixing it with other technologies (jet engine or ramjet), one would enable the aircraft and missiles to reach hypersonic speeds, as Beijing’s Power Machinery Research Institute explains:

The turbo-aided rocket-augmented ram/scramjet engine (TRRE), which uses rocket augmentation to aid the transition into the supersonic and hypersonic flight regimes, could be the world's first combined cycle engine to fly in 2025, paving the way for hypersonic -space planes and single-stage space launchers.

DARPA also explains the US point of view on this particular area of research:

Advanced Full Range Engine program (AFRE) which is intended as a reusable hypersonic engine that combines an off-the-shelf jet engine with a dual mode ramjet engine.

War Is Boring definitively clarifies the concept using simpler words:

Turbojet? Ramjet? Scramjet? A turbojet spins a lot of blades to compress and heat incoming air. A ramjet moves so fast that the engine is already hot and compressed enough to ignite the fuel. A scramjet – short for "supersonic combustion ramjet"  is just that, a ramjet where the incoming air is moving at supersonic speeds.

The world of hypersonic weapons is divided into four types: hypersonic cruise missiles, which are surface- or air-launched; hypersonic glide vehicles, brought to high altitude by missiles or jets, re-entering the atmosphere at very high speeds while maneuvering, and able to hit targets with conventional or nuclear bombs; hypersonic attack aircraft, which are vehicles that fly at hypersonic speeds and are capable of taking off and landing, and are therefore useful for surveillance purposes but potentially also for attack; and finally, hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

Let's examine them one by one, listing the current respective stages of research, development and testing of the countries in question.

The first type of hypersonic weapons are the easiest to understand. Simply put, these are cruise missiles with scramjet engines that are capable of accelerating to hypersonic speeds.

Hypersonic cruise Missiles (excluding anti-ship weapons available below) United States (testing phase)

Russia/India (testing phase)

  • BrahMos-II is a hypersonic missile currently under development in India and Russia

The most discussed weapon is the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). What exactly a HGV is can be explained as follows:

HGVs are unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glide and "skip" through the earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds. Compared to conventional ballistic systems, HGV warheads can be much higher, lower altitudes and less-trackable trajectories. The defense systems approach leaves less time to intercept the warhead before it drops its payload.

Glide Weapon/Hypersonic Glide Vehicle:

United States (experimental phase)

  • For years, the US has worked on missiles that can be used as a Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) weapon, which is a rocket glider that can reach speeds of 20,921 kilometers per hour, or Mach 20, and then uses a scramjet/ramjet engine to perform maneuvers. Currently, the United States is in the research and development phase of experimenting with an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) known as the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2)

Russia (entering into service in 2019)

  • KH-47M 2 Kinzhal (Dagger). An air-launched, modified Zircon missile launched from a MiG-31.

China (test phase)

  • DF-17/DF-ZF/WU-14 - Hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) medium-range system, with a range of between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers.

As we can see, Russia is almost ready to start mass production of their HGVs, while the US is still in the early phase of experimentation, and China is already undertaking numerous tests.

The most complicated factor with hypersonic technology concerns the Hypersonic Attack Aircraft (HAA), equipped with scramjet engines and able to attain hypersonic speeds, but with the added benefit of being able to take off and land. They are to be unmanned and can be used for surveillance or attack purposes.

Hypersonic Attack Aircraft

United States (unknown phase)

  • No known projects, much speculation about tests and scientific research. For example, the US military created in 1996 a program called SHAAFT. Now the US Military is working on a number of prototypes:

Russia (testing phase)

China (testing phase)

  • TENGYUN is a hypersonic aircraft powered during the first stage by a turbine rocket combined cycle (TRCC) engine, which then launches a reusable second-stage rocket to reach the stratosphere.

Because scramjet technology, on which HAA systems rely, is still in its early phases of development, this weapon system is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon.

Anti-ship missiles accelerate to hypersonic speed, allowing them to hit naval groups. As described below, this is because of a scramjet motor that gives such missiles their power:

Anti Ship Missiles are believed to be a maneuvering, winged hypersonic cruise missile with a lift-generating center body. A booster stage with solid-fuel engines accelerates it to supersonic speeds, after which a scramjet motor in the second stage accelerates it to hypersonic speeds.

Anti Ship Hypersonic Missiles:

United States (Currently only possesses sub-sonic missiles)

Russia (operational)

China (testing phase)

In the next article I will explain how Russia and China Gained a Strategic Advantage in Hypersonic Technology and why this could be a game changer in future war scenarios. 


navy62802 TBT or not TBT Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:10 Permalink

Ballistic missiles have been around for decades. It's the endo-atmospheric hypersonic weapons that are the game changer. These weapons are not ballistic and have been under research and development by the US military for decades, at the significant expense of the American taxpayer. The design parameters for these types of weapons were successfully exfiltrated by Hillary Clinton to the US's enemies. Now, because of Clinton's actions, the US's enemies obtained these design parameters and have begun making their own hypersonic weapons.

In reply to by TBT or not TBT

LiteBeeer navy62802 Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:28 Permalink

Russian S-400 as example has max operational reach of 30 Km. There is no space and universe. Jesuit lies. All CGI. Catholic means universal. Sun/Nimrod worship. There is no solar system. Satanic illusions to keep you from biblical truth.

The higher you go, and faster you are, heat increases exponential. There are no materials to cope with that. SR-71 Blackbird weeps oil after landing for hours.


In reply to by navy62802

Lore King of Ruperts Land Mon, 05/14/2018 - 00:19 Permalink

You touch an important point. These technologies are all very impressive-sounding, but considering that the psychopaths who always make trouble for the rest of us are comparatively small in number, wouldn't it make sense to focus R&D on better ways to target Them, and not Everybody Else?  Just a thought.  It seems to me that future war ought to be much less messy and more selective.

In reply to by King of Ruperts Land

mkkby Lore Mon, 05/14/2018 - 02:49 Permalink

Hypersonic anything is vapor ware.  It doesn't exist outside of some expensive experiments that don't work very well.  Scare the sheep into coughing up dough is the game here.

I really got a laugh out of the *plasma shield*.  What a fuckin' joke.  As if a plasma cloud would just surround a missile while wind is gusting by at mach 8.

Really, you have to be a grade school drop out to believe this nonsense.  But then again, most sheeple think star trek is just a few years away.

In reply to by Lore

Stuck on Zero mkkby Mon, 05/14/2018 - 10:36 Permalink

Mkkby you are so right. Hypersonic is as dumb as it gets. You can't maneuver worth beans at those speeds, your sensors are all fucked, your range is nil, and the payload is miniscule because of all the fuel you have to carry. People love the cachet of "hyper."  Far more cost effective is the cheap, molded fiberglass, stealth, cruise missile propelled by a flat four with a wooden propeller. With that technology you can fire 100 1 ton payloads at the enemy from halfway across the globe. Unlike what the headlines say a ground hugging missile is damned hard to find and harder yet to knock out.

In reply to by mkkby

RedBaron616 LiteBeeer Mon, 05/14/2018 - 06:26 Permalink

Stop doing drugs while posting. The SR-71 weeped fuel, not oil. It usually took off with a minimum load and filled up at a tanker.  Yes, it expanded during flight, but you also have to remember that it was built with 1950s technology and slide rules. And it did not leak fuel when at altitude and high speed. Hypersonic missiles are much, much smaller than the SR-71 and so heat expansion will also be much less.

In reply to by LiteBeeer

RationalLuddite BlindMonkey Mon, 05/14/2018 - 01:09 Permalink

Sounds like he uses truth by assertion and exceptionalist projection (i.e. those inferoirs could not possibly have developed them themselves,  so the USA bestest brains and tech in the Star Trek /Tesla/Space X/ AI/ Quantum computing/Climate Change /Holywood propaganda universe MUST by rationalising necessity have had it stolen from their Narcissistic delusional Head meats) with a pixie dusting of "USA USA USA" exceptionalism. 

That being said, while his psychological assumptions are vacuous hubristic speculation, some of his other technical comments are broadly correct. 

Provocative outburst fini.

In reply to by BlindMonkey

SgtSchultz navy62802 Mon, 05/14/2018 - 00:38 Permalink

Nat Geo ran a story awhile back about the US nuclear sub fleet.  There was a very brief mention of a key vulnerability to US subs - supersonic torpedo's. Why?  As they explained, they travel faster than their sound signature underwater.  The sub would never know what hit it.  The kinetic energy alone would destroy the sub.  Apparently Russia has such operational weapons along with their allies.  Wikipedia use to have a reference to the Russian torpedo, good luck trying to find that or the the Nat Geo episode.  If you guys find it link it.

Actually I might have found the prior reference:



In reply to by navy62802

SgtSchultz The_Juggernaut Mon, 05/14/2018 - 01:18 Permalink

Perhaps I misstated the physics involved.  The crux the the story was that our subs are vulnerable to this type of threat.    I did come across this - link to rather lengthy story from April 2017 below:


However, a new Russian torpedo is likely to see the Shkval’s defects remedied. The Khishchnik ("Predator") is a new supercavitating torpedo at an advanced stage of development. Unlike various supposed superweapons which they boast about publicly, the Russians are keeping very quiet about Predator.

High-speed underwater projectiles rely on a principle called supercavitation. Rather than being streamlined, Shkval’s nose is blunt, ending in a flat disc. This creates a low-pressure area in its wake – the pressure is so low that a bubble of water vapor forms. This cavitation effect is well known; propellers are designed to minimize it because it reduces contact with the water and causes damage. In supercavitation, the bubble is large enough to enclose the entire torpedo except for its steering fins. By travelling inside the bubble, the torpedo experiences far less drag than a normal torpedo in contact with the water. The low drag means it can reach phenomenal speeds.


In reply to by The_Juggernaut

BlindMonkey navy62802 Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:37 Permalink

What does HRC have to do with peers seeing and exploiting an asymetrical option to defending against the US?


Hypersonics overwhelmingly benefit the defender in tactical use.  Decapation strikes are good for offense and hypersonics are well suited to it but that works both ways.


So anyone putting large money into hypersonics is playing defense, not offense.

In reply to by navy62802

Cloud9.5 BlindMonkey Mon, 05/14/2018 - 08:29 Permalink

Follow the money.  All those foreign contributions to the Clintons did not come about because they were just good people.  Who was the genius who thought it was a good idea to use Chinese slave labor to build American I Phones?  Why are Chinese are chips at the heart of the American defense network?  Who thought it was a good idea for the Secretary of State to have a private server run by the Pakistanis so the Wiener could transfer classified material to his lap top?

The Bush boys and their oil deals facilitated the capture of the system by international oligarchs.

In reply to by BlindMonkey

DuneCreature New_Meat Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:52 Permalink

Frogs can be lethal too.

Poison Tree Frogs and a blow hard gun.

~~*~~ Doctor Frog Goes To Washington ~~*~~

The Doc is Seething Mad and Trying To Fix That Madness

He still has all of his faculties and limbs but with the Chemtrails in the air, scant GMO insects left to eat and bad meds in the runoff water he may grow an extra head or two on the trip to DC.

The Petition To End The Federal Reserve Bank


I doubt even a mean seething frog will last very long in The Cesspool but my hat is off to him for trying.

Live Hard, We The People Should Give The Good Doc A Lift To Get Him Inside The DC Beltway At The Very Least And Bang On The End The FED With Him Just On The Off Chance He Is Actually A Magic Prince, Die Free

~ DC v8.8

In reply to by New_Meat

DuneCreature DuneCreature Sun, 05/13/2018 - 23:54 Permalink


Me too.

Here, I will let the good Doc (the Doc part is just what I’ve read him referred to as.) speak for himself. .. I like his videos, at least the ones I’ve watched. .. Some of them sound just like me spewing. …. On a coherent day.


Live Hard, Some People Call Me Dr Dune And Some People Call Me Dr Dumbass And Some People Just Vacate The Building Quietly, Die Free

~ DC v8.8

In reply to by DuneCreature