FUTURE STRIKE: Are hypersonic glide vehicles really game changers?
India Successfully conducted test of a Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle or HSTDV –which can be used for futuristic missile system and aircraft — was conducted today off the coast of Odisha.
Conventional cruise missiles like Nirbhay are a commonly used weapon during an all out war. They are used to strike high value targets like Brigade HQ, Corps HQ or ammunition depot deep inside the enemy territory. But if the target is of high value, it is sure to be guarded by multiple layers of air defence systems. Traditional cruise missiles are slow & they can be shot down by surface to air missiles of the enemy before the cruise missile hits the target. Here comes the role of hypersonic cruise missiles.
HSTDV based Hypersonic cruise missiles will travel at speeds of mach 6 to mach 7 or simply put 2.0 – 2.4 km per second. At this speed the reaction time available for the enemy’s air defence systems to track, engage & hit the target is very less.
Add to that the unpredictable flight path of an already ultra fast cruise missile. This further complicates the game & makes it impossible for any air defence system to engage it.
Hence a hypersonic cruise missile can almost certainly hit the target thanks to it’s speed & agility. As of today, there is not air defence system in the world which can intercept an hypersonic cruise missile. Only Directed Energy (DE) weapon show a promise to stop a hypersonic vehicle but developing these are far from reality.
HyperSonic Missile Race
Since President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced the deployment of the Avangard, among the first in a new class of missiles capable of reaching hypersonic velocity — something no missile can currently achieve, aside from an ICBM during re-entry.
Whether or not the Avangard can do what Mr. Putin says, the United States is rushing to match it. We could soon find ourselves in a new arms race as deadly as the Cold War — and at a time when the world’s arms control efforts look like relics of an inscrutable past and the effort to renew the most important of them, a new START agreement, is foundering.
West was already developing Hypersonic weapons but the work now has been accelerated but of what president Putin said: “Not a single country possesses hypersonic weapons, let alone continental-range hypersonic weapons.” The West and other nations were “playing catch-up with us”.
What are hypersonic weapons?
Any strategic weapon that can travel at the speed of Mach 5 (5 times the speed of sound) or above are called hypersonic weapons. These weapons are mainly classified into two categories while some consider three types (they include ICBMs). They can be stated as below:
- Hypersonic cruise missiles (HCM)
- Hypersonic Glide vehicles (HGV)
- Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
We will not consider ICBMs as they attend hypersonic velocity during its reentry phase.
Hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) are powered all the way to their targets by rockets or advanced jet engines, such as scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets). They are faster versions of existing cruise missiles.
Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), are typically launched by rockets into the upper atmosphere. They are released at altitudes that can vary from around 50 km to higher than 100 km and glide to their targets by skipping along the upper atmosphere.
History of strategic missiles:
The Boeing X-51 Waverider is an unmanned research scramjet experimental aircraft for hypersonic flight at Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h) and an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 m). The aircraft was designated X-51 in 2005. It completed its first powered hypersonic flight on 26 May 2010. After two unsuccessful test flights, the X-51 completed a flight of over six minutes and reached speeds of over Mach 5 for 210 seconds on 1 May 2013 for the longest duration powered hypersonic flight.
And at last we have hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), The Avangard is a nuclear-capable, hypersonic boost-glide vehicle under development by the Russian Federation. It was one of six “next generation” weapons described by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a speech in March 2018.
Are Hypersonic glide vehicles really game changers?
To be a gamechanger weapon, one must qualify some necessary parameters with very large margin.
- Hypersonic glide vehicles travel at very high speeds above Mach 5, which makes it very difficult to defend against it.
- HGVs maneuver at an altitude of 44kms to 100 kms thus make it late to detect to both ground and satellite sensors. Giving defender less time to think and react.
- HGVs are unpowered and are riding the wave to glide towards it target thus not following the ballistic trajectory makes it hard to defend by any missile defense system.
- In some cases, there is no need to put explosives on it, the momentum of the vehicle itself is sufficient to cause quite a bit of destruction.
- Being a weapon of range upper-hypersonic gives it intercontinental range means it can hit any target on the planet.
- Hypersonics made it too late to detect on advance RADARs and in some cases where RADARs are not advanced it is not detectable because of the plasma layer around it.
The above points clearly show that unless we have any defense system against HGVs or at least against Hypersonic weapons, Yes it is a GAMECHANGER
Saurav L. Chaudhari Chief Scientific Officer at HTNP Industries Pvt. Ltd. department of thermonuclear propulsion. Author of the book ‘Dismantling Democracy: A Stealth War’.
Reference:- Subhadeep Quora