Russia could “pleasantly surprise” the US by developing means to counter its hypersonic weapons

The big news of the last few days is certainly the emergence of official information about the first successful flight test of American hypersonic weapons

Russia could "pleasantly surprise" the US by developing means to counter its hypersonic weapons
Let’s try to understand this event and its implications.

The test was reported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Raytheon Corporation of America on 27 September 2021. The first flight test of a prototype hypersonic air-launched cruise missile was conducted.

This missile is developed under the joint program of DARPA and the US Air Force called HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) in the interests of the US Air Force. Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman are participating in the programme.

During the test, the rocket undocked from the aircraft, then the solid propellant engine accelerated it to supersonic speed for a few seconds, then the Northrop Grumman’s hydrocarbon-fuel-air mixture cruise engine started, the rocket reached hypersonic flight speed of over Mach 5.

DARPA rated the test a success and noted that it was the first successful flight test of a US-made hypersonic weapon since 2013. According to Raytheon Corporation, the test confirmed the ability of the HAWC airframe and propulsion system to reach and travel at hypersonic speeds.

To describe the US hypersonic cruise missile HAWC in clearer terms, it is somewhat analogous to the Russian hypersonic cruise missile 3M22 Zircon. The only difference is that our missile is a sea-based missile, while the American missile is an air-based one.

Besides, the Zircon has a higher speed, reaching 8-9 Mach. The range of the Zircon is more than 1,000 km. According to the assessment of the well-known Russian military expert Konstantin Sivkov, the range of the American HAWC missile is in the range of 500-1000 km.

General information about the HAWC program is outlined in the latest update of the regular report “Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress” by the Congressional Research Service (Congressional Research Service) dated August 25, 2021.

The HAWC programme “seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies for an effective and affordable hypersonic air-launched cruise missile. Such a missile would be smaller than the hypersonic guided weapon systems in the US Department of Defense’s designs, and would therefore be able to be launched from a wider range of platforms. In addition, the HAWC and other hypersonic cruise missiles allow for easier integration of guidance systems than hypersonic gliding warheads.

In fiscal year 2021, $31 million was earmarked for the HAWC programme. The request for fiscal year 2022 was $10 million. A final review of the HAWC programme is due to be completed in FY2022.

It should be noted that of all hypersonic weapons development programs in the US, the most advanced has always been the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile program for the US Air Force. The missile is the US counterpart to Russia’s KINZHAL air-launched hypersonic missile system, which was put on test combat duty back on December 1, 2017.

Deployment of the ARRW in initial operational capability is scheduled for fiscal year 2022. The U.S. Air Force has requested $161 million in fiscal year 2022 to procure 12 ARRW missiles. However, there were problems with the flight test of this missile: both test launches (April 5 and July 28, 2021) were unsuccessful.

Therefore, the first successful flight test of a U.S. hypersonic weapon, namely the HAWC prototype missile, should be considered the first breakthrough in the U.S. hypersonic weapon development. Obviously, it will take at least 2-3 years before a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile based on the technology developed under the HAWC program is put into service.

At the same time, it can be stated that the countdown has started and the arrival of hypersonic weapons in the US Armed Forces is just a matter of time. At the same time, it should be understood that the United States has a highly developed industry capable of producing serial models in large quantities and quickly saturate the U.S. Armed Forces with advanced hypersonic systems. Such a development would, in time, to a certain extent deprive Moscow of the unilateral advantage in possessing hypersonic weapons that it currently enjoys.


It is obvious that for Russia the issue of developing means to counter hypersonic weapons of potential adversary is on the agenda.

This situation is not new to us, and it was officially predicted back in June 2020. Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that when other countries develop hypersonic weapons, Russia could “pleasantly surprise” its partners by developing the means to counter these weapons.

During his annual press conference on 17 December 2020, the Russian president repeated this thesis, saying he was actively working on developing technologies that could stop the use of hypersonic weapons developed by adversaries. Vladimir Putin noted that so far only Russia has hypersonic weapons, but he said the US would soon develop similar weapons as well:
“They will, of course, this is quite obvious. We will be ready by that time. You asked what we are working on. This is one of them. On the antidote to future hyper-weapons in other leading armies of the world. I am sure we will do that.”

The Russian commander-in-chief’s statements inspire confidence and optimism. We are waiting for official information on practical results of Russia’s work on development of means to counter hypersonic weapon of potential adversary.

Alexander Vladimirov, Russtrat


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