Kyle Mizokami, who "blessed" many of us at some point of time with his "expert" opinions while writing for tabloid The National Interest, does it again. This time in Popular Mechanics. He, obviously, doesn't get, which is expected from the guy with some funny background in some "security", that the main issue are not some "hyper-sonic" weapons related to a rather bizarre concept of Prompt Global Strike but a completely different fruit altogether.
As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, hypersonic weapons traveling at Mach 5-plus experience a whole new level of heat buildup. While a ballistic missile warhead might spend only seconds exposed to air friction, hypersonic weapons experience air friction throughout their entire flight. Chemical reactions with the surrounding air even create a plasma around the hypersonic weapon, which can interfere with the object’s ability to reference GPS or receive outside course correction commands. That’s not all. Hypersonic travel is so brutal that an object traveling at such speeds slowly tears itself apart during flight as the speed magnifies heat, wind, and other environmental factors. This gradually alters a hypersonic weapon’s flight dynamics, making accuracy an increasingly difficult problem.
Based on that triviality, he concludes, that hypersonic weapons "are not accurate". There is one issue, though, with this whole "expert" opinion--not only those hypersonic weapons are very accurate and have confirmed their accuracy, but are already deployed on a combat duty. So, what's the problem then? The problem is that Mizokami writes about hypersonic gliders which in Russia are known as fully combat ready Avangard system and which the United States tried to create (still tries) under different programs. The fact that, as is now traditional, Mizokami has no idea what he is writing about is mentioning of GPS. Sure. But Mizokami, he is an "expert" after all, must know that both in ballistics and hypersonic weapons (call it a hunch) one of the main correction channels is optronic one, including, but not limited to, capability to get celestial correction, as well as final capture (lock) of the target. But even this is not the main point. The main point is THIS:
WASHINGTON — In a move with sweeping consequences for the U.S. Navy’s battle force, the service is canceling plans to add 10 years to the expected service lives of its stalwart destroyer fleet, a cost-savings measure that would almost certainly hamper plans to grow the size of the fleet. In written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Navy’s Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts said performing service life extensions on Burkes designed to bring them up from 35-year hull lives to 45 years was not cost-effective.
One may ask a question--WHY? It is a good question and part of the answer to this question is undeniably fiscal. The United States realistically is bankrupt, while its technology, even a good one as those handsome Arleigh Burke-class DDGs, is insanely expensive. This is to put it politely. But the other huge part of the answer is in this passage:
Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the cuts were a necessary step. Clark recently authored a study with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments that called for canceling the DDG service life extensions. “It’s crazy to throw good money after bad for a bunch of ships you say you don’t need,” Clark said. “I think the Navy is coming to grips with the fiscal realities; the unsustainable nature of their current plan; and the recognition it is going to have a need for fewer large surface combatants in the future and needs to husband its resources to build a larger fleet of smaller surface combatants. Those are going to be the bulk of the distributed force they intend to have.”
Ah, that is much-much warmer. The reason for that is a simple fact that large and expensive surface combatants are not survivable in the modern naval combat, unless they have weapon systems which can fight REAL hypersonic weapons such as fully combat ready and deployed Kinzhal, 3M22 Zircon or even nearing M=5 X-32 anti-shipping missiles. That is the real hypersonic threat, not those exotic Avangard gliders which merely exist to forestall the appearance in the future of similar systems in the United States and, if it ever materializes (I doubt it, but who knows) some sort of strategic anti-missile system. Unlike Avangard, which is a nuclear deterrent, another one in Russia's arsenal, Kinzhal, X-32 and Zircon are actual weapons designed specifically to fulfill a classic Sea Denial (or, if one wants an exercise in Pentagonese from me--Battle Space Denial) in both conventional or nuclear variants. They, not the Avangard, are the weapons which, being tactical-operational ones, achieved already a strategic and even doctrinal effect and these weapons are extremely precise. United States knows that. Liana, as Shoigu reported recently, namely last Peon NKS is nearing completion (in Russian), that's what is going to complete creation of Liana, which will (already does) provide detection, tracking and targeting for hypersonic and supersonic weapons against any targets.
Same way as creation of modern rifles and machine guns forced infantry to abandon linear tactics and reduce its battlefield "footprint" by spreading (distributing) itself over distance, inevitably same distribution over area, including reduction in size and, inevitably, tightest control of emissions is one of the ways for surface combatants to increase their chances of survival against weapons which cannot be stopped and will not be stopped for some fairly long time by the US Navy. This is why, the United States lacking those capabilities, is destroying START treaty by demanding to include in it such weapon as Kinzhal. US also increasingly nuclearizes its own posture precisely because it lacks those conventional capabilities. Russia was ready to talk about Avangard and even offered a "discussion" on Kinzhal, but all those "discussions" today come with many strings attached and price to be paid, and Russia, certainly, is not discussing Zircon. The United States is not ready to pay this price. This is the point Mizokami misses when discussing hypersonic gliders, which are not even that important against the background of a real RMA which completely changed power balance globally.
In related news, it will be Severodvinsk, not Kazan, which was initially planned, to launch Zircon soon (in Russian), while Admiral Gorshkov will continue testing of this weapon this year. Several launches are announced. Zirconization of the Russian Navy proceeds apace. Well, that, plus global de-petrodollarization. We are at the threshold of the brave new world, or should I say: Brave New World? No, not Huxley's novel, but Iron Maiden's album, wink-wink;) Judging by modern day "experts" this future seems assured for us and it will require a lot of bravery to face it.