The United States lacks defenses against Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles and needs to speed up work to counter the threat, the commander of the Strategic Command told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
“Both Russia and China are developing hypersonic capabilities,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the Omaha-based Strategic Command said. “We’ve watched them test those capabilities. So both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities.”
Hyten explained that hypersonic missiles are launched atop ballistic missiles and then fly at ultra-high speeds along a depressed trajectory like a cruise missile or aircraft. They can be armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads and are difficult to counter.
“It goes up into the low reaches of space and then turns immediately back down and then levels out and flies at a very high level of speed. That’s a hypersonic weapon,” he said.
Asked by Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) if the military has defenses against the hypersonic missiles, Hyten said there are no current defenses against the missiles that travel faster than 7,500 miles per hour.
“Our defense is our deterrent capability,” Hyten said. “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
The triad is the combination of land-based and sea-based nuclear missiles and nuclear bombers.
Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that adversaries are developing hypersonic missiles that will be deployed “in the next few years.”