After the US and Russia first began developing hypersonic missiles, China too jumped on the bandwagon and the latest to enter this race are Japan and India. Experts, however, suggest that hypersonic missiles can have a severe impact on the global security with India and Japan also looking to acquire the technology.
Hypersonic Weapons Technology
Hypersonic weapons refer to weapons that can travel at a speed faster than Mach 5 or in other words systems that can travel five times the speed of sound. The reasons why hypersonic weapons are considered deadly is because they comprise the capacities of both, the ballistic as well as cruise missile wherein they have the speed of a ballistic missile and the manoeuvrability of a cruise missile.
Hypersonic weapons are specifically designed to counter the modern ballistic missile defence system and to deliver conventional and nuclear payload at high velocities over long ranges.
Hypersonic vehicles typically consist of a Supersonic Combustion Ramjet, or Scramjet propulsion system to enable such high speeds. A Scramjet engine is an engine that uses “air-breathing” technology, which means that the engine collects oxygen from the atmosphere as it is travelling and mixes the oxygen with its hydrogen fuel, creating the combustion needed for hypersonic travel.
This is different than a traditional ramjet, which is used on space shuttles and satellite launches. The traditional ramjet engine carries liquid oxygen, and hydrogen together, adding a tremendous amount of weight to the vessel.
Most of the added weight comes from the liquid oxygen (the oxidizer), which is nearly 70% of the fuel used in space launches. For a scramjet to work the air travelling into the engine must already be at supersonic speed.
This is so the air is properly condensed to the required density to effectively combust with the hydrogen mix. To reach supersonic speed, the vessel is usually launched with a traditional booster engine, and once it has reached the proper speed and altitude (generally around Mach 5 and 100,000ft) the scramjet is activated.
Other options currently in development are dual-mode ramjet (DMRJ), which works as a ramjet until the craft reaches proper speed and altitude, and then begins to work as a scramjet. By using the DMRJ, the vessel can operate without a booster, which allows it to operate in a more clandestine manner.
Hypersonic Missiles – US, Russia and China
The United States, Russia and China have been involved in the development of a hypersonic weapons system. The US in 2011 launched successfully an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon that successfully struck a target located at 3700 km away.
US defence major Lockheed Martin, as reported by the EurAsian Times, is developing a hypersonic vehicle called as Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 which is a manoeuvrable rocket launched aircraft that glides through the earth’s atmosphere at Mach 20.
China also has been developing a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles. DF-ZF is a hypersonic glide vehicle and can reach speeds of up to Mach 10. It is expected to be operational by 2020. The Chinese Military has been developing DF-17 a ballistic missile combined with an HGV. The missile has the capacity to travel at Mach 10 and reach targets between 1100 to 1500 miles.
Russia is the first to deploy HGV known as Avangard which is capable of sharp high-speed manoeuvres in flight and can reach a speed of Mach 20. As a part of a joint venture with India, Russia has also been working on its BrahMos, a Hypersonic Cruise Missile reaching a speed of Mach 7. Another hypersonic cruise missile Russia is building is KH-47M2 Kinzhal that can travel at Mach 10 with a distance of 1200 miles.
Hypersonic Missiles – Japan & India
While the Japanese Government recently outlined a programme for homegrown hypersonic weapons, India recently came close to successfully testing its own Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle whose first test resulted in failure.
As the EurAsian Times reported last year, India conducted the maiden launch of a new hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle last year but failed to demonstrate the technology. The vehicle was test-launched using the Agni 1 missile platform that was to take it up to a proposed altitude where scramjet technology—the ability to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 6 while using atmospheric oxygen as oxidizer—had to be validated with separation of the platform and a short flight at high altitude.
According to reports, while the missile on which the platform was mounted successfully took off from the range, the test could not be completed to demonstrate the vehicle at hypersonic speed as the Agni 1 did not reach the desired altitude for the test.
According to a report in Defense News, Japan has sketched its R&D road map for homegrown, hypersonic weapons, establishing that it is seeking rapid growth in hypersonic capabilities. However, the fact that India and Japan have also joined the race for these almost undetectable weapons, the arms race in the world and especially in the Asian region has begun to increasingly heat up.
The EurAsian Times is a leading English language, digital news-site, which specializes in reporting news and editorials on South Asia, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and the Eurasian region. The EurAsian Times has a strong editorial presence in New Delhi, Dubai, Karachi, Moscow, Toronto & London and have expertise in penning editorials on defence, geopolitics and international relations. The article has been penned by Nitin J Ticku.