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The Pentagon Isn't Sure It Can Stop Russia's 'Unstoppable' New Hypersonic Weapons
Editor’s Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.
How ready is the United States to defend against "unstoppable" high-tech weapons from Russia and China? The head of U.S. Strategic Command sent mixed signals in congressional testimony Tuesday.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Air Force Gen. John Hyten warned lawmakers the U.S. isn't completely prepared to stave off adversaries' hypersonic missile technologies but is ready "for all threats."
"The first, most important message I want to deliver today is that the forces under my command are fully ready to deter our adversaries and respond decisively, should deterrence ever fail. We are ready for all threats. No one should doubt this," Hyten said in his opening statement.
But in a follow-on conversation with Sen. Jim Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma, Hyten was unsure how to best frame the U.S.' defensive capabilities against a hypersonic missile threat.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed his country has developed "invincible" new nuclear weapons, including hypersonic missiles, that can penetrate U.S. defenses.
"If that happens, what kind of defense do we have against the hypersonic threat?" Inhofe asked.
Hyten replied, "We have a very difficult — well, our defense is our deterrent capability. We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat."
Russian Ministry of Defense footage shows the Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a test in southern Russia in March 2018Russian Ministry of Defense
The nuclear triad consists of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
Echoing Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hyten made a case for developing low-yield nuclear weapons at a time when Russia has unveiled a plan "to use a low-yield nuclear weapon on the battlefield in case of a conventional overmatch with an adversary."
"To respond to the threat, we need a small number of low-yield nuclear weapons that we can deploy on our submarine-launched ballistic missiles, still in the New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] limits," Hyten said during the hearing.
Hyten told lawmakers that low-yield nukes, in combination with the nuclear triad — operated by the Air Force and Navy — are the best deterrent the U.S. could hope for when going up against Russia, North Korea or China.
The Defense Department has maintained a message of "stop it before it happens" for some months and laid claim that the newly unveiled Nuclear Posture Review protects against threats by buying more nukes that pack a smaller punch.
Lawmakers worry this will spawn a future arms race with enemies rather than encouraging the pursuit of diplomatic avenues.
"Having low-yield weapons does not in and of itself lower the threshold for use of nuclear weapons," Selva said in January.
In addition to low-yield nukes, leaders want supplementary protections.
For example, space-based sensors — an enhanced way to adequately track and respond to missile attacks from space -- also must be fielded, the Pentagon's top missile defense director said March 6.
"What we're looking for is to move the sensor architecture to space and use that advantage of space in coordination with our ground assets to relieve the gaps," Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said during the annual "Defense Programs" conference hosted by defense consulting firm McAleese & Associates.
Greaves said space-based sensors complement the Defense Department's abilities to accurately track an "enemy threat as it's coming your way," a reference to hypersonic missile threats.
When asked how the DoD plans to proceed with funding or acquiring the technology, Greaves refuted the idea that space-based sensors can't be made a reality in the near future.
"The requirements are not 'unobtainium,' " he said. "Let's change the mission, the threat … The question in my mind is not if we can do it. It's six, seven years from now, explaining to the American public why we didn't start yesterday."
This story first appeared on Military.com
Read more from Military.com:
- Missile Defense Chief Wants Space-Based Missile-Tracking Sensors Now
- U.S. Can Intercept North Korean Missiles, General Says
- U.S. Nuclear Review Calls for Development of Low-Yield Nukes
The Marine Corps has tapped a new Silicon Valley defense firm to develop a "digital fortress" of networked surveillance systems in order to enhance the situational awareness of security forces at installations around the world.
Marine Corps Installations Command on July 15 announced a $13.5 million sole source contract award to Anduril Industries — the two-year-old defense technology company and Project Maven contractor founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and several former Palantir Technologies executives — for a new Autonomous Surveillance Counter Intrusion Capability (ASCIC) designed to help secure installations against "all manners of intrusion" without additional manpower.
This is no standard intrusion system. Through its AI-driven Lattice Platform network and 32-foot-tall autonomous Sentry Towers, Anduril purports to combine the virtual reality systems that Luckey pioneered at Oculus with Pentagon's most advanced sensors into a simple mobile platform, enhancing an installation's surveillance capabilities with what Wired recently dubbed "a web of all-seeing eyes, with intelligence to know what it sees."
The Marine Corps' dune buggy drone jammer may have downed two Iranian drones in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. military have officials announced.
The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer was transiting the Strait of Hormuz on July 18 when two Iranian drones came dangerously close, according to U.S. Central Command.
"This was a defensive action by the USS Boxer in response to aggressive interactions by two Iranian UAS [unmanned aerial systems] platforms in international waters," CENTCOM spokesman Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement. "The Boxer took defensive action and engaged both of these platforms."
Green Beret with terminal cancer meets Trump to rally support for military medical malpractice reform
On July 17, Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal briefly met with President Donald Trump at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina to discuss the eponymous legislation that would finally allow victims of military medical malpractice to sue the U.S. government.
A Green Beret with terminal lung cancer, Stayskal has spent the last year fighting to change the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court precedent that bars service members like him from suing the government for negligence or wrongdoing.
The Pentagon is no longer topless. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Mark Esper as the United States' first permanent defense secretary in more than seven months.
Esper is expected to be sworn in as defense secretary later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
"We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee's willingness to quickly move through this process," Hoffman said.
The new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick that dropped last week was indisputably the white-knuckle thrill ride of the summer, a blur of aerial acrobatics and beach volleyball that made us wonder how we ever lost that lovin' feeling in the decades since we first met Pete "Maverick" Mitchell back in 1986.
But it also made us wonder something else: Why is Maverick still flying combat missions in an F/A-18 Super Hornet as a 57-year-old captain after more than 30 years of service?