For one, there is no political will in Europe to fight a third world war in a century, especially with a massive nuclear-armed enemy. For another, the United States, as advanced as our military is, lacks a key weapon that Russia is said to have: Nuclear-armed hypersonic missiles that can travel five-to-seven times the speed of sound.
Oh, and ditto for China, should Beijing decide to launch an attack on Taiwan to 'reunify' the island democracy with the mainland (never mind that the Chinese nationalists escaped there post-World War II to form their own country after losing a civil war to the Communists).
They’re so fast, their speed can change the surrounding air molecules. They can carry a nuclear warhead, fly low and be hard to detect. Hypersonic weapons are at the center of escalating competition between the U.S. and China. In an appearance on Bloomberg TV Oct. 27, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, likened China’s suspected tests of a hypersonic weapons system this summer to a “Sputnik moment,” a reference to the Soviet Union’s pioneering launch of a satellite in 1957, giving it an early lead in the space race and shocking the U.S.
The U.S. and Israel are believed to have the world's most advanced missile defense systems, but they are not nimble or fast enough to pick off hypersonic weapons, so our national security is definitely at risk.
"Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t follow a predetermined, arched trajectory and can maneuver on the way to their destination, according to the Congressional Research Service," Bloomberg adds. "The term 'hypersonic' describes any speed faster than five times that of sound, which is roughly 760 miles (1,220 kilometers) per hour at sea level, meaning these weapons can travel at least 3,800 miles per hour."
Hypersonic weapons come in the form of glide vehicles and cruise missiles, and thus far, most of the focus is on the former. They are launched from a rocket before they then glide to their target. These are easier to build for hypersonic speeds than missiles, which are equipped with engines called scramjets -- they utilize oxygen from the air to give them thrust during flight, which allows for steady cruise altitudes and speeds.
"China, the U.S., and Russia have the most advanced capabilities, and several other countries are investigating the technology, including India, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and North Korea, which claims to have tested a hypersonic missile," Bloomberg News reported, adding:
-- Russia: In 2019, Russian media reported that the Avangard glide vehicle that is launched from an ICBM and can carry a nuclear payload was deployed for combat duty. Meanwhile, "Tsirkon is a ship-launched cruise missile said to be capable of striking both ground and naval targets," Bloomberg reported.
-- China: The Financial Times reported that Beijing's military conducted two hypersonic glide vehicle tests over the summer but the ChiCom government has denied it. Nevertheless, China's DF-17 and DF-41 missiles can or have been altered to carry such vehicles, including one that can orbit the earth with a nuclear weapon as its payload. China is also said to have deployed its system as well.
-- United States: While we were chasing down lightly armed militants in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, our enemies were developing weapon systems for 'big boy' combat -- namely, hypersonic weapons. "The U.S.: Gregory Hayes, chief executive officer of U.S. defense contractor Raytheon Technologies Corp., told Bloomberg TV Oct. 26 that the U.S. is 'at least several years behind' China in hypersonic technology despite significant investment," Bloomberg reported.
The outlet describes the significance of hypersonics:
They are very difficult to counter using existing defenses. U.S. officials say that American hypersonic weapons, unlike those being developed in China and Russia, are being designed to carry conventional rather than nuclear weapons. But this provides scant reassurance to potential U.S. adversaries, who would have no way of knowing whether such a weapon in fact carried a nuclear warhead while it was in flight. The pursuit of these systems by China and Russia reflects a concern that U.S. hypersonic weapons could enable America to conduct a preemptive, decapitating strike on their nuclear arsenals and supporting infrastructure. U.S. missile defense deployments could then limit their ability to conduct a retaliatory strike against the U.S.
A tired, decrepit president coupled with a military that lacks the most cutting-edge weaponry for the first time since the Cold War equals a very unstable, at-risk world.