Hypersonic technology considered primary tech threat to U.S. military superiority

The head of the Pentagon’s technological innovation used his first public forum in that capacity to warn that hypersonic systems represent the greatest tech challenge to the U.S. military superiority.

China is an adversary,” Mike Griffin, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said during the March 6 McAleese/Credit Suisse defense programs conference in Washington. “They want global power and influence. They want it without wanting to have a fight, and unless we do something about it, they will have it.”

When asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent claims that his country had successfully developed a hypersonic ICBM, Griffin pivoted back to China.

“I’ve actually had the last few years to think about what Vladimir Putin unveiled last week, and equally of note are the regional and theater hypersonic systems that the Chinese have been working on,” he said.

Over the past decade, China has conducted 20 times as many hypersonic tests as the U.S. has conducted, according to Griffin. The under secretary added that if China were to field a hypersonic missile capability soon — before the U.S. could counter it — Beijing could hold American carrier strike groups at bay while its forces moved against Washington’s allies in the region.

Because of that, Griffin said developing hypersonic systems and the ability to counter them is the Pentagon’s top technological priority.

“I plan to create new budget lines that may not yet exist,” Griffin said. “The United States is not yet doing all that we need to do to respond to adversary hypersonic threats.”

He said the U.S. was not far behind technically, however, he added that the Pentagon needed to step up hypersonic development and work on architectures that will lead to successful fielding of that capability.

Griffin said the goal is not to simply build a capability that matches the Chinese (or Russians).

“I want to see their hand and raise them one,” Griffin said. “I want to make them worry about catching up with us. Any ally or partner we have who doesn’t see it that way, I don’t have time for you.” [Source: “Pentagon tech chief hones in on countering China, developing hypersonics,” Inside Defense, 8 March 2018.]

Analysis: As I’ve said often, hypersonic weapons is a game-changer. The fact that the Pentagon’s new technology official is putting such a high priority on developing a hypersonic capability that exceeds what our adversaries may field soon tells you just how big a threat this technology is. 

There hasn’t been a time since World War II that American carriers were as threatened as they are now. For the hundreds of billions we’ve invested in carrier strike groups over the decades, it makes no sense to ignore the biggest threat to them today. The last thing that the commander-in-chief will want to hear in a time of crisis is that his carrier strike groups are impotent because they can’t get close enough to the fight.

To emphasize the importance of these systems, the director of DARPA recently called for a national infrastructure plan to develop hypersonic missiles.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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