AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
On June 13, 1944, Nazi German scientists test-fired an A4 rocket, also known as the V-2, which veered off course and exploded over Sweden. Three months before the first V-2 attack on London, Swedish investigators gathered pieces from the destroyed rocket and secretly transported them to England. The shocked Allies immediately launched “Project Big Ben” to learn the size, technology, range, and military capability of this new “secret weapon.”
What they learned soon horrified Allied command – there was no defense against the Nazis’ new weapon. Traveling at the speed of sound, the V-2 was impossible to stop. More than 2,700 British civilians would be killed by the V-2 before the end of the war, with many thousands more injured. Thankfully, Allied bombing had already crippled the Nazi war machine by that point, and the Germans stood no chance of being able to produce enough of the missiles to turn the tide in the war. Additionally, many rockets that were produced failed to hit their target and exploded harmlessly over the ocean or farmland.
Today, the United States and its Western allies face a similar but far more deadly threat. Months after China and Russia first tested hypersonic missiles, the U.S. still has no effective defense against them, something which leaves the world’s greatest military power dangerously vulnerable. To make matters worse, U.S. hypersonic weapon technology has also lagged behind its chief global rivals, giving the Chinese and Russians a leg up in a potential military conflict with the U.S.
The full scope of just how devastating a full-scale conflict with a hypersonic power could be has been on full display in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, where Russia became the first country to use the new technology in combat. The Russian Kinzhal missile, which translates to “dagger” in English, has reportedly been used with deadly effectiveness in several regions of Ukraine, and can be launched from MiG fighter jets.
According to top U.S. military leaders, Russia has launched dozens of hypersonic missile attacks on Ukraine since February 24. Data from the United Nations shows that all Russian missile attacks, which include both ballistic and hypersonoic missiles, have left a minimum of 2,072 people dead and 2,818 injured. In one of the first wars between two modern military powers in the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly clear that missile technology is key in deciding battles.
The success of these missile attacks has no doubt caught the attention of the Chinese, who developed their hypersonic missile fleet with an eye toward bringing Taiwan to heel. According to U.S. military intelligence, over a thousand short- and medium-range missiles are facing Taiwan and the Southern Islands of Japan at this very moment – many of them capable of targeting U.S. military installations in the South Pacific as well.
China’s missile stockpile is far larger than Russia’s, and there are some signs that their technology may be more advanced as well. The military-industrial complex was caught completely off-guard last year when China conducted their first successful hypersonic test, an occurrence that experts had previously thought was years away. Should China choose to engage in hostilities with the United States, it could likely destroy dozens of U.S. military bases in Asia and Europe in a matter of hours.
Russia’s successful use of missiles has also likely not been lost on other U.S. adversaries in the Middle East, including the Iranian regime and Iran-backed terror cells like the Houthis in Yemen. According to former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, terrorist groups in the Middle East have long relied on missile attacks to spread fear and suffering, as well as undermine U.S. power. The prospect of rogue states and militias armed with Russian or Chinese hypersonic missiles is a truly frightening one indeed.
The United States and its allies thus desperately need to speed up both defenses against hypersonic missiles and development of hypersonic missiles of their own.
One strategy U.S. officials could use to accomplish this would be to bolster the already-existing U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). This Bush-era program was set up after 9/11, and within three years had developed the then-world-class THAAD missile defense system and brought U.S. missile defense into the 21st century. The necessary infrastructure is already in place, and coordinating hypersonic missile technology through one central agency would likely prove far more efficient than navigating a complicated array of agencies and bureaucracies.
Regardless, the U.S. needs a counter to hypersonic weapons, and it needs it quickly. Once hostilities start, it’s too late. Not only that, but an effective defense against hypersonic weapons would likely prove a deterrent to future Chinese or Russian provocations.
After the end of World War II, American historian William L. Shirer predicted that, had the war lasted another six months, the Germans would have produced missiles capable of striking targets in the United States, such as New York City. Today, America’s enemies already possess that ability. In a time of relative peace, the U.S. can strengthen its defenses to stave off disaster. Officials in Congress and the White House should not waste the opportunity to do so.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian and researcher.
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