Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a national address that included talk about a number of new missile platforms the Russian military is rapidly fielding. For defense analysts, none of the missiles he discussed were particularly new, as most were actually leftover Cold War era projects the Kremlin only recently put into production — but one type of missile technology was different. While many of the platforms Putin discussed offered strategic novelty moreso than functionality, hypersonic missile platforms really do pose a threat to America’s defensive apparatus.
Russia isn’t the only nation working to field missiles that can exceed the Mach 5 barrier into “hypersonic” speeds – China has their own programs with similar aims – and both nations already have combat capable hypersonic missile applications. Among other things, this development is forcing a dramatic reimagining of how America’s aircraft carriers could be used in a conflict with either nation, as the range and sheer indefensibility of these missiles would make bringing a carrier close enough to launch sorties a suicide mission.
While the United States has worked in the past with Australia on experimental hypersonic missile platforms, it seems only now, as the threat posed by the nation’s competitors is already at hand, that the Defense Department is ready to seriously pursue the development of America’s own technological response.
Last week, Lockheed Martin — developer of both of America’s 5th generation fighters and storied defense contractor — was announced as the winner of a massive $928 Million contract with its sights set on developing a hypersonic missile platform of our own. Specifically, an air-launched hypersonic platform that could help offset the operational gap presented Russian and Chinese missiles.