New Delhi: Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday said his country’s Navy vessels would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons and underwater nuclear drones, which, according to him, are in the final phase of testing.
According to a Reuters news report, Putin has often spoken of the new generation of Russian nuclear weapons, which he has called “unequalled” and had said can hit almost anywhere in the world.
ThePrint explains what hypersonic weapons are, how they are a game-changer in warfare, and which countries are working to acquire them.
What are hypersonic missiles?
Hypersonic missiles can travel at speeds faster than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) or 3,800 miles per hour, much faster than other ballistic and cruise missiles. They are highly manoeuvrable and do not follow a predictable arc as they travel.
They can deliver conventional or nuclear payloads within minutes.
According to this report, these weapons combine the speed of ballistic missiles with the manoeuvering capabilities of cruise missiles. They travel over 6,115 km per hour making them hard to track compared to traditional missile tech.
How can they be a game-changer?
The speed as well as the manoeuverability and unpredictability of the weapon lends them the power to change course even mid-way, thus making their interception and early detection difficult.
The Scramjet engines of the weapons collect oxygen from the atmosphere as they travel to mix with hydrogen fuel, which creates the combustion needed for hypersonic flight.
An Indian defence official explained that the weapon is a game-changer because of its ability to render the ballistic missile defence capability redundant due to its high speed and manoeuverability.
“The Chinese have been aggressively testing WU-14 (hypersonic glider vehicle), which has huge strategic implications for India. Hence, India too needs to leverage its comprehensive national potential to respond to this emergency,” the official said.
Which countries are working towards acquiring them?
In March this year, the United States also announced it has successfully tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile.
According to reports, China and Russia are vigorously pursuing hypersonic weapons, along with the United States, even as the latter is reportedly not developing or considering hypersonic weapons for use with a nuclear warhead.
India, too, has been pursuing the programme at a much smaller scale since 2004.
While on 12 June 2019, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) launched a Hypersonic Technology Development Vehicle (HSTDV), BrahMos Aerospace is developing the BrahMos-II, a hypersonic cruise missile which is expected to get ready by 2023.
Even though Putin had said he does not want an arms race, the development of testing of the hypersonic weapons by these countries have triggered fears of one.