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It’s been almost a year since China surprised the Pentagon and the world with a hypersonic vehicle test that circled the globe and landed just two dozen miles from its target.
“The meaning was that it scared everybody,” Senator Angus King told Fox News. “If the thing lives over Kansas City, you say you reduce 15 to 20 minutes to two to three minutes. That’s a qualitative change.”
Some Pentagon officials described it as a “Sputnik” moment because the Chinese overtook the United States with technology that could evade billions of dollars in missile defense, sparking an arms race.
Hypersonic weapons fly at speeds of at least Mach 5, are highly maneuverable, are able to change course during flight, and can fly 100 feet above the ocean undetected.
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In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Sen. King I-Maine, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said the United States still lags its opponents.
The senator from Maine accuses the United States of being afraid of failure, which is different from adversaries like China.
“We’re probably, I think, five years behind the Chinese position,” King said. “They don’t mind failing the tests. We have this idea that we have to do exactly the right things and every test has to be a success. They have a series of failures, each of which they have learned something from.”
King has asked the Pentagon in nearly every public hearing why it isn’t investing more in hypersonic technology.
“Frankly, the Chinese and the Russians just beat us to it,” King said. “If our strategy in the Pacific is based on aircraft carriers and an aircraft carrier is vulnerable to a 6,000 mph missile, we are in trouble.”
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The United States announced a failed weapons test in June. A complete hypersonic system for a Common Hypersonic Glide Body atop a two-stage missile booster had failed to detach and reach speeds of Mach 5 at a Pacific Missile Range Facility test site in Hawaii , announced the Pentagon.
But on Tuesday, just days after news of the failed test, the Pentagon made a point of announcing two recent successful hypersonic tests. One, conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in May, demonstrated the first flight test of the ground-based hypersonic boost-glide system to be launched from a standard military truck at White Sands Missile Facility in New Mexico.
More recently, the Air Force successfully tested a hypersonic missile off the coast of Southern California that could be air-dropped from under the wing of a B-52 strategic jet bomber.
Russian scientists mocked the failed US hypersonic vehicle test last week, saying the US design model for hypersonic weapons was “too complex”. Congress is seeking $292 million in the new defense bill to fund more hypersonic research and development.
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Senator King compares hypersonic weapons to the introduction of the longbow, which helped the British beat the French when they were overrun at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and to the stirrup, which enabled Ghenghis Khan’s soldiers to stabilize their shot from atop a horse.
“Technological developments often determine the outcome of a conflict,” King said. “And hypersonic, to me, is the game-changing strategic difference in any future conflict that this country is engaged in. And we’re behind the times.”
At a confirmation hearing earlier this year, John Plumb, first deputy secretary of defense for space policy, agreed.
“It certainly looks like we’re running late,” Plumb said in response to Senator King in January.
Outgoing Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General John Hyten was the first to sound the alarm over the loss of the United States in the hypersonic race in November.
The U.S. military, realizing the threat these weapons pose, has had to resort to using hot air balloons to provide an early warning system to protect the nation from hypersonic weapons that can now evade missile defense systems. Americans. Congress is asking for $27.1 million for this balloon defense in next year’s defense budget
Pentagon officials have publicly pushed back against the narrative that the United States has “fallen behind”, pointing out that American ballistic missiles and most of its vast nuclear arsenal are already hypersonic, meaning, by definition, they fly five times faster than the speed of sound. . Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked at a press conference in November if the Chinese hypersonic test was a “Sputnik” moment.
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“Well, those are terms I wouldn’t use,” Austin said.
When asked why the Chinese were able to deploy a medium-range hypersonic weapon and the United States could not, Austin bristled.
“I don’t know if they’ve deployed those weapons, but they’re testing those weapons,” Austin said.
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