US in a hypersonic hustle to catch China, Russia – Asia Times

US in a hypersonic hustle to catch China, Russia - Asia Times

In a move that attempts to catch up with China and Russia while attempting to land on an appropriate marine launch pad, the US intends to equip its ships with hypersonic ship-killing missiles.

The US Navy is advancing its maritime strike capabilities through the Hypersonic Air-Loaded Offensive Anti-Surface ( HALO ) program, which aims to equip surface and subsurface fleets with air-launched hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, according to The War Zone.

The initiative, highlighted in a recent contracting announcement, is part of the Navy’s broader Offensive Anti- Surface Warfare ( OASuW ) Increment project. According to The War Zone report, the US Navy signed deals with security firms Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in March 2023 for allegedly scramjet- or ramjet-powered competitors ‘ missile designs.

The HALO plan, set for a trip demonstration in fiscal year 2027, seeks to enhance the US Navy’s capacity to handle sophisticated marine challenges in disputed environments, particularly in the Pacific, against China.

According to the War Zone review, the HALO program also offers acquisition and sustainment advantages as a result of scale-savings and shared supply chains for heat, surface, and groundwater launch platforms.

By 2029, the US Navy plans to have HALO weapons in operation, with the possibility of adding area- and subsurface-launched variants as well. This creation is a response to China and Russia’s close-knit developments by the Navy.

It even aligns with the US government’s broader interest in fast systems, as seen in the Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile ( HACM). However, the US does have a smaller fast firepower than China and Russia, both of whom have already tested and used ship-launched fast weapons in combat.

The US Navy describes OASuW/HALO as an “offensive weapons program that is a crucial part of the Joint Force Anti-Surface Warfare capability and incorporates new and emerging technologies to support an improved offensive strike capability utilizing many weapons” in its Governmental 2025 Budget Request.

The program, according to the article, will “provide the Navy with a required weapon to address growing long-range, high-speed threats from near-peer competitors.”

Importantly, China has previously fielded the YJ- 21 fast anti- send weapon, performing a test launch from a Kind 055 cruiser in April 2023. If the claims are accurate, the YJ-21 is said to be able to fly at six times the speed of sound and at a switch rate ten times faster than tone.

China’s YJ- 21 fast weapon in a test start. Image: Video Screengrab

Russia has reportedly used its Zircon hypersonic missile in the continuous Ukraine conflict. According to an analysis of missile fragments obtained by the Kiev Scientific Research Institute for Forensic Examinations (KNDISE ) from a February Russian missile attack, Zircon missile parts were discovered.

Russia’s Zircon weapon has a 1, 000- mile variety and walks at nine days the speed of sound. Before being used to equip the ship in January 2023, it was test-fired from two ships, the Admiral Gorshkov ship and the Severodvinsk underwater.

In January 2024, Asia Times noted that the US Navy also relies on large supersonic speed missiles such as the Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile ( NSM) and Tomahawk, which puts the US at a disadvantage vis- à- vis its hypersonic- military adversaries.

The Harpoon first entered the military in 1977, and it has undergone constant upgrades throughout its useful life, but it may already have reached its full potential.

Although the NSM’s light 100- kilogram time-delayed contact-fused warhead has an infrared seeker that allows it to target specific areas of a ship and increase its resistance to electronic countermeasures, it lacks the punch of the Harpoon’s 207- kilogram time-delayed contact-fused warhead. The NSM’s 200- kilometer range is also shorter than the Harpoon Extended Range’s ( Harpoon- ER ) 248 kilometers.

Although the Tomahawk carries a massive 454- kilogram warhead and has a 1, 250- 2, 500- kilometer range, depending on the variant, its subsonic speed and non- stealth design may make it vulnerable to sophisticated air defenses.

The US Navy adds that the OASuW program is “part of its Long Range Fires ( LRF ) approach to address advanced threat capabilities in the Anti- Access/Area- Denial ( A2AD ) environment”.

It describes HALO as a” carrier- suitable, higher- speed, longer- range, air- launched weapon system providing superior Anti- Surface Warfare ( ASW) capabilities”.

China and Russia have constructed warships that can launch hypersonic missiles, but the US may still be trying to find a suitable platform as it tries to repurpose its controversial Zumwalt-class destroyers and invests in the upcoming generation DDG ( X ), which has had a number of development phase issues.

Russia launched the Project 22350 Admiral Golovko frigate, its first ship to launch hypersonic missiles like the Zircon, in December 2023, according to Defense News. Russia is rumored to be building 12 upgraded variants as part of Project 22350M, according to Defense News.

According to the same report, the ships will most likely launch Kalibr, Oniks, and Zircon missiles from a universal launcher. Given the high cost of Zircon missiles, the other two projectiles will likely form the core of the ship’s anti- ship armament.

Producing Project 22350M frigates will be a piece- by- piece affair. Severnaya Verf, the warships ‘ builder, lacks facilities, modernization and equipment. Additionally, Defense News points out that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have made it difficult or impossible to obtain high-quality components for radars and diesel engines.

Russia's 3M22 Zircon anti-ship hypersonic missile. Screen grab: Military Technology Zone/ YouTube
Russia’s 3M22 Zircon anti- ship hypersonic missile. Image: Military Technology Zone / YouTube Screengrab

The US Navy is changing its troubled Zumwalt- class destroyers into hypersonic missile launchers, according to Asia Times, in March 2022, turning the futuristic vessels into blue-water strike platforms from their original purpose as stealthy shore bombardment ships.

However, the project may attempt to preserve an unfeasible design that was initially planned. Low-frequency radar can be used to detect the Zumwalt’s tumblehome stealth hull and its unstable state on high seas.

Also, the class has no close- in weapons systems ( CIWS ) installed, potentially making it vulnerable to air and missile attacks. There may not be enough Zumwalt destroyers to meet the US Navy’s operational needs, despite the steep$ 4.24 billion price per ship for just three ships.

Shepard Media reports this month that the DDG ( X ) may have to be canceled due to excessive costs, a shortage of submarines in the US, and issues with the US shipbuilding base. The upcoming DDG ( X ) aims to address the shortcomings of the Zumwalt class.

According to the Shepard Media report, the DDG ( X ) can cost between$ 3.2 billion and$ 3.5 billion per ship, which is an Arleigh Burke destroyer’s$ 2.2 billion price tag, making it impossible for the former to completely replace the latter class.

Additionally, it states that the US Navy places a high value on submarine construction and that large surface ships are vulnerable in a potential high-intensity conflict with China. The US Navy’s priorities are also reflected in the Shepard Media report, which also makes a distinction between the DDG ( X ) design features.

While the DDG ( X ) features 96 vertical launch systems (VLS ) for larger, longer- range and possibly hypersonic missiles, the US Navy’s emphasis on submarines and unmanned systems perhaps makes a hypersonic- missile- firing DDG ( X ) a possible misfit for its future force structures.