With Proposed Bill, America Publicly Embraces the Age of Hypersonic Warfare

Allow me to quote briefly the rock supergroup of our generation, Imagine Dragons.

“Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh”

Recent bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate confirms that truer lyrics have not been penned.

We are in a new age; the age of open, unabashed hypersonic armament.

How quickly the future sneaks up on us.

Despite a military budget significantly depleted in recent years, the current administration has proposed increases in military spending by as much as $85 billion. Fortification of America’s arsenal has been underway virtually since Donald Trump’s inauguration – it is one of his highest, most publicly avowed priorities.

And, with Vladimir Putin hard at work logging distance between Russia’s military technology and America’s, which has been hamstrung by unrealistic budget cuts and misallocated spending, the world’s foremost superpower has some catching up to do. Putin’s unveiling of an air-launched hypersonic weapon – what appears to be a modified Iskander ballistic missile – just over three months ago has undoubtedly applied pressure on American leadership to respond in kind.

Kickstarting that response is precisely what U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) aim to do with their introduction of Senate Bill 2980, also known as the Integrated Missile Defense Act of 2018.

“Last year, Congress – working closely with the Trump administration – undertook much-needed efforts to dramatically bolster and advance our country’s missile defense,” said Senator Sullivan. “This year, continuing to work in a bipartisan fashion, our bill finally authorizes the full development and deployment of a space-based sensor layer.” (schatz.senate.gov)

The bill follows the passage of the Advancing America’s Missile Defense Act of 2017 last year. While the military is constantly developing technologies that the public, and American politicians, aren’t aware of, funding for and contracting of massive projects typically requires Congressional approval.

The bill was announced before in the days before the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit, and justification for strengthening American missile defenses includes deterrence of any threats levied by the Kim regime.

“When it comes to North Korea, we can hope for the best while still planning for the worst,” Senator Schatz said. “I strongly support diplomacy, but in the meantime, this bill beefs up our missile defense system and protects Hawai‘i, Alaska, and the U.S. mainland from rogue missile threats.”

But, ultimately, the development of hypersonic weaponry is necessary if America is to reclaim its position as leader in military technology development. Leadership aside, such weapons are needed, if only to keep up with Russia’s defenses.

“[Hypersonic missile defense] also speeds up our efforts to protect U.S. forces and allies in the region by improving our ability to detect, track, discriminate, and intercept increasingly sophisticated future missile threats,” Schatz added.

The details of what, exactly, this bill would aim to do paint a picture of the new age of space-based defensive armaments where the technologies formerly of the future now qualify as present threats. The bill:

  • Develops and Deploys Space-based Sensors: Mandates the development deployment of space-based sensors as soon as practicable. 
  • Readies Our Defenses: Mandates an analysis of accelerating the development and deployment of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) to Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely.
  • Promotes a More Integrated Missile Defense: Directs a study on an integrated air-and-missile defense architecture to protect against evolving threats outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
  • Accelerates Our Defenses Against Hypersonic Threats: Directs the acceleration of our hypersonic missile defenses and links them to the deployment of space-based sensors.
  • Focuses of Allies: Expresses that the U.S. should work with allies and trusted partners to share missile defense capabilities.
  • More Rigorous Testing: Seeks to discourage a risk adverse culture of missile defense testing and promotes a more rigorous testing regime to deliver capabilities at the “speed of relevance.” (schatz.senate.gov)

Policies of military deterrence have always precipitated arms races, and with those races inevitably comes the development of newer, more potentially destructive technologies. The frightening nature of a given military technology – in this case, hypersonic ballistic missiles – can only be allayed by the fact that adversaries and their foes each possess them, enacting the tenuous safety net that is mutually assured destruction.

The development of these weapons falls within the parameters of the Army’s Modernization Strategy, which calls for improving ‘Long-Range Precision Fires’ and ‘Air and Missile Defense Capabilities’. Now, it’s been announced that the hypersonic missile project, dubbed “Hacksaw”, will be completed under the watch of trusty contract Lockheed Martin.

‘The U.S. Air Force awarded major defense contractor Lockheed Martin a $928 million contract to develop a weapon designed to fly more than five times faster the speed of sound. These hypersonic weapons are designed to overwhelm enemy defenses with blistering speed and provide the capability to strike targets where the time window is tight.’ (Yahoo via Air Force Magazine)

Though some may see this bill and technology as hawkish, the fact that Russia has proven to possess this technology makes the bill imperative. Not because war with Russia, North Korea, or Iran is imminent or desirous – here’s to the naïve hope that peace will last forever. But, because a level playing field is one of the surest-fire ways to avoid conflict in the first place.

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