Putin built a hypersonic arsenal, while the Pentagon slept

Putin went on to say that Russia had entered serial production of the Avangard hypersonic glide system, which was to be deployed later in 2019. He added that the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which he asserted was “of unprecedented power,” was in the test stage, as was the Peresvet laser missile and air-defense weapon, likewise to be deployed this year. He noted that the Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missile, having undergone operational testing, “proved [its] unique characteristics during test and combat alert missions while the personnel learned how to operate them.” Finally, he asserted that the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile “of unlimited range,” and the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle, were successfully undergoing tests…

As the Pentagon itself acknowledges, the United States lags behind both Russia and China in hypersonic weapons development and is only at the starting gate when it comes to defenses against these systems. It is not as if the Department of Defense (DOD) had no hypersonic programs. As the DOD’s comptroller earlier this century, I supported and approved funding for hypersonic research. The Pentagon culture tends to reflect an inbuilt inertia that militates against the introduction of new systems until there is no alternative, which is now the case.

Russia is almost certain to introduce almost all of its new hypersonic weapons well before they will appear in the American arsenal, and before the United States has developed defenses against them. In doing so, it will lessen the effectiveness of America’s ballistic missile defenses, which are not geared to targeting — much less shooting down — hypersonic systems, especially cruise missiles such as the Burevestnik. As long as Washington has no means of defending against strategic hypersonic systems, it will be forced to resort to mutual assured deterrence (MAD), which anti-ballistic missile defenses were meant to supersede. 

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