(WASHINGTON, DC)—A new report from the Arms Control Association details the growing allure but also the risks of the aggressive pursuit of hypersonic weapons by the United States amid a renewed emphasis on military competition with China and Russia. The report also proposes action items for Congress to better understand the Defense Department’s plans for the weapons and mitigate strategic stability risks.
The debate concerning hypersonic weapons has gained increased attention in recent years as the United States has poured billions of dollars—and plans to pour billions more—into accelerating the development of hypersonic weapons and as China and Russia make headway in developing and deploying their own such weapons. The Pentagon is funding no less than eight prototype hypersonic weapons programs with the aim of fielding an initial capability of at least some of those by 2022.
“[T]he U.S. rush to field hypersonic weapons merits a more critical examination by the Biden administration and Congress given the many unanswered questions about their rationale, technical viability, cost-effectiveness, and escalatory risks,” write Shannon Bugos, a research associate, and Kingston Reif, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
“It is time—in fact, past time—for Congress to demand these answers before the military begins fielding the weapons in great numbers,” they say.
The report, Understanding Hypersonic Weapons: Managing the Allure and the Risks, outlines the scope of the unanswered questions about the case for hypersonic weapons, details the underappreciated risks to stability posed by the weapons, assesses the viability of arms control as a tool to reduce these risks, and suggests recommended action items for Congress to better its understanding about the Pentagon’s plans for the weapons, eliminate potential redundancies in weapons capabilities, and mitigate stability risks.
The full report is available for download at ArmsControl.org/Reports.