Hypersonic weapon systems will alter the global strategic landscape. They will compress reaction times, increase ambiguity of military actions, and may lead to the weaponization of space. With no effective defenses against such systems in sight, all actors will face less stability – regardless of whether or not they field hypersonic weapon systems themselves. Germany and Europe should explore options to mitigate these risks through arms control, export controls, and confidence-building measures.
On the Brink of a New Arms Race
In December 2018, Russia attested a new weapon system: a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle named Avangard, which President Putin described as a “wonderful, perfect New Year’s gift for the country.” This test was only the latest step in a dynamic harboring serious characteristics of an arms race; a situation where two or more actors are developing specific weapons with reference to developments of the other.
Besides Russia, China is working on its own hypersonic glide vehicle called WU-14, which is scheduled to begin operations in 2020. The USA has conducted and is currently conducting tests with both hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missile capable of flying at hypersonic speeds. All three countries defend their research, development and testing activities for these weapon systems as necessary to outperform the military capabilities of potential adversaries. For Russia and China, this adversary is the USA – and vice versa.
Click here for the briefing paper (6 PDF pages) on the DGAP website.