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Speed Determines The Victor

Ballistic missiles have long been the pride of countries since the Cold War, especially for the United States and Russia. Their first use came during World War 2 when Germany aimed it against Britain and France; the trend, for its preference in securing borders and efficiency in targeting, has been on a rapid rise. The situation reached to the point where the USA and Russia had to sign the treaty in 2010 to limit the use of ICBM, the recent most actively used technological ballistic missiles, albeit Donald Trump dissolved the treaty. Not only the superpowers have shown greed in acquiring and improvising such ballistic missiles to strengthen their national security, but financially prickle states like Pakistan, India, Iran and others have somewhat successfully tested ballistic missiles except for any staunch proof for ICBMs.

In the recent past, China has also emerged as the leading figure as she flexes her muscles using ICBMS and the confidence has reached tenfold with their new Hypersonic missiles, a technological advancement still limited in the hands of few. The world's superpowers are developing an array of hypersonic missiles that can travel across the world faster than Mach 5, or 3, 800 miles per hour. These weapons could provide almost immediate weapons response capabilities for the countries that have them. So much so that developing new hypersonic tech is creating a new arms race around the world.

To begin with, Ballistic missile, is a rocket-propelled self-guided strategic-weapons system that follows a ballistic trajectory to deliver a payload from its launch site to a predetermined target. Ballistic missiles can carry conventional high explosives as well as chemical, biological, or nuclear munitions. They can be launched from aircraft, ships, and submarines in addition to land-based silos and mobile platforms. Now, adding super speed to the missile team and that makes a hypersonic ballistic missile. Hypersonic weapons essentially combine the speed of ballistic missiles with the maneuvering capabilities of cruise missiles. They can travel at around 5 times the speed of sound, making them hard to track compared to traditional missiles.

One of the biggest advantages of modern hypersonic missiles isn't speed though, it's the added maneuverability at these high speeds that makes them so practical as both offensive and defensive weapons. While hypersonic missile tech is key for rapid accurate delivery, the most important part of any weapon is the payload. Hypersonic weapons can deliver conventional or nuclear payloads essentially anywhere in the world within minutes. Hypersonic missiles can be delivered in two ways: they can be fired from the last stages of Intercontinental or Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles to skip along the top of the atmosphere using specialized jet engines; or they can be launched independently or released from a bomber—similar to cruise missiles—before accelerating to ultra-high speeds.

The main race for development in hypersonic weaponry is among China, USA and Russia. Russia and the US have the oldest research programmes focused on hypersonic technology, dating to the 1980s. Currently, China appears to have the largest and best funded research programme, with the most aerospace graduates produced by its universities, scientific publications on hypersonic, operational ground-test facilities, hypersonic tests performed and systems in prototype development. Neither China, nor United States ever disclose their proper spending on military research but China have been indicating active involvement in technological superiority in improving her offensive capability. To tackle, USA have recently increased their budget spending on hypersonic missiles to counter China's obvious rise.

In last year, Science & Global Security published an article depicting hypersonic missiles as a "game changer". With allegedly "unmatched speed", these weapons are said to "hit over-the-horizon targets in a fraction of the time it would take existing ballistic or cruise missiles." In short, proponents assert that "developments in hypersonic propulsion will revolutionize warfare by providing the ability to strike targets more quickly." This claimed speed advantage is ostensibly accompanied by near-immunity to detection, rendering hypersonic weapons "nearly invisible" to existing early warning systems. 9 Together, these capabilities will purportedly "greatly compress decision and response times" in a hypersonic strike, leaving those targeted with "insufficient time … to confidently identify and confirm the nature of an incoming attack, let alone to decide how to respond. But there are voices speaking against this expensive weapon.

In the same article, the study rejects claims hypersonic weapon's speed, handling and altitude makes them difficult to track and intercept. Using computer modelling, the study finds that hypersonic gliders deliver weapons more slowly than ballistic missiles during intercontinental flights due to drag effects and can be detected by space-based sensors because of the heat from of their atmospheric flight and their ability to maneuver is exaggerated. "Hypersonic missiles are not the revolutionary technology they're claimed to be". Cameron Tracy, co-author of the research study and Kendall Fellow for the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said.

"The United States is spending vast sums of money on these new weapons that will perform worse, in many ways, than the ballistic missiles we already have."

The study notes the rush to develop hypersonic weapons risks triggering a new arms race between the US, Russia and China. Last year North Korea claimed it was working to build a hypersonic missile system. The same year, the Australian Government announced it will develop hypersonic cruise missiles in a joint project with the US. It followed a defense review, in which Australia set aside up to $9.3 billion for high-speed, long-range missile systems, including hypersonic research. But the US report calls for the incoming Biden administration to cut back development of hypersonic weapons. "Hypersonic missiles don't perform as advertised" according to one researcher. In an era of increasing demands on economic resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States can't afford to buy weapons that won't make the nation any safer and will drive a dangerous arms race.

No matter what, once a race begins, it only stops when one reaches the final mark and the arms race has gradually begun. The pace will soon unfold in the coming years as to who is leading and who lags behind. Whoever results a victor, speed will be the defining tool.