US Navy Explores Sub-Launched Hypersonic Missiles
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

US Navy Explores Sub-Launched Hypersonic Missiles


The U.S. Navy is looking into developing a submarine-launched hypersonic missile as part of its conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) program.

According to an Inside Defense article, the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs office is soliciting proposals for “two-year industry trade studies to flesh out technology options and architecture for an intermediate-range conventional prompt global strike weapon.”

The report said that the competition was part of the Defense Department’s “fiscal year 2014 plan to investigate a launcher, missile and glide body for a weapon with potential game-changing capabilities.” Top among these CPGS capabilities is to develop precision-guided ballistic missiles that can reach any point on the globe within an hour’s time.

Inside Defense went on to say that the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs office was interested in awarding one or two thirteen-month contracts, each of which would be worth $5 million and be eligible for a one year extension. The statement announcing the competition did caution that: “The industrial effort in this procurement is not intended to be a system-level development of a specific CPGS solution; instead, it is a technical trade study to evaluate technology options and compare the performance and technology cost considerations of these options.”

Although pursuing submarine-launched missiles instead of ground-based ones increases the technical challenges involved, the decision is necessary in light of the United States’ treaty obligations which ban it and Russia from developing ground-launched intermediate missiles with a range of 500-5,500 km. Recent reports, however, suggest that Russia may have recently violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (which also bans conventional missiles), opening up the future possibility of the U.S. developing intermediate-range ground-based missiles as part of its CPGS program.

Some analysts believe there is a nascent hypersonic missile arms race between some of the world’s major powers. The Navy’s competition announcement comes on the heels of China testing its own hypersonic missile vehicle. As my colleague Ankit reported last month, “The hypersonic missile [test] could be a major milestone for China as it modernizes its military technology for strategic nuclear and conventional military purposes.” Ankit, citing Project 2049’s Mark Stokes, went on to note that China is believed to be “working on two such hypersonic flight vehicle programs, both intended for long-range strategic use.” Additionally, Beijing is also believed to be pursuing an independent hypersonic capability, as opposed to one that takes off from China’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Besides China, Russia and India are also jointly developing a hypersonic missile capability.

Hypersonic missiles are technically defined as those that travel between speeds of Mach 5 and Mach 10 (3,840 miles per hour and 7,680 miles per hour.) They also travel at lower altitudes than existing ballistic missiles, making them impervious to current missile defense technologies.

February 7, 2014 at 23:56

The question is what is all this accomplishing? What is China, USA, Russia, India trying to prove to the world? Is this what evolution priming us for, assured mutual destruction! I fear for the future of the human race…

February 8, 2014 at 01:55

Is a weapon used for other purposes a weapon?

Hypersonic research has applications beyond the military and can push the boundaries of human knowledge and capabilities. What was once meant for war can be used to further the human race rather than destroy it.

February 8, 2014 at 17:05

lol TDog, with the level of mis-trust at an all time high, no doubt aided by the asinine nationalistic media, hungry for customers, we are surrendering ourselves to a fatal distraction here…

February 7, 2014 at 17:19

Hypersonic strategic weapons are one thing, but being able to create a tactical hypersonic weapon would be a serious threat if not a game changer.

February 8, 2014 at 02:06

A real problem if it is non-nuclear tactical because of the degree of precision required.

February 8, 2014 at 09:31

True, but the first one there will hold the advantage for however long it takes Number Two to catch up.

February 4, 2014 at 21:08

Well gee whiz – And here’s me thinking that China had the monopoly on hypersonic missiles and all those pesky American aircraft carriers are going down. Who would have guessed……..

February 8, 2014 at 04:19

@ glenn

no one guessed that. the americans were the first to test hypersonic missiles after all.
but these things aren’t for missile defense, so aircraft carriers are still vulnerable.

February 8, 2014 at 20:04

Excuse my sarcasm, but my actual train of thought was along the lines of…. hypersonic missiles on submarines.. equals a very potent offensive capability – against LAND (and SHIP) BASED hypersonic missiles. There has been so much hype (there’s that word again hehe} about Chinese missiles that it was obvious even to my untrained eye that the Americans would be making moves to counteract such weapons. Difficult to detect submarines lurking off one’s coast armed with the above would be cause for Chinese concern I would think.

February 4, 2014 at 17:48

we hear the US complaints about the supposed violation of the INF by russia. there has been however no concrete proof. the media often points to systems such as the r-27 and the r-500, these however, do not violate the treaty. systems like the r-27 are icbms, with ranges over 5500km, just because they tested it at a lesser range, does not mean it violates the INF. the r-500, aka the Iskander missile, also technically has a maximium ranged just under the treaty limits, hence its perfectly compliant even if it could be upgraded to greater and hence treaty violating ranges. however just because it could be, does not mean it is. i could go stab someone right now, but i havent therefore i am guilty of exactly zero crimes. similar to how many export weapons(from east and west) could easily go beyond 300km but is limited by choice to comply with MTCR.

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