Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his annual State of the Nation speech to announce a new range of intercontinental offensive weapons. A world leader making the international community aware of offensive capability is not unusual in itself, but the nature of one weapon, in particular, has military leaders scrambling.
Hypersonic weapons render many countries defensive options useless. Firstly, they are capable of carrying a nuclear payload, which is terrifying in itself, but it’s how hypersonic weapons travel that changes everything.
Hypersonic weapons can’t just travel at several times the speed of sound, making them virtually impregnable to missile defence systems, they can also manoeuvre.
Where traditional missile systems are aimed at a target and fired, a hypersonic missile can be sent on a winding route, or that route can be changed if circumstances change – for example if an aircraft carrier scrambles some fighter jets to intercept the missile.
All of this means that traditional defensive strategies are virtually useless. Missile defence systems rely on a calculation of trajectory and predicted flight path. These calculations are used to deploy anti-missile systems that intercept and destroy the weapons before they arrive. But if none of those calculations have any chance of being accurate, the only option left for defence ministries around the world will be a responsive strike and immediate negotiation. Meaning, that discussions will be happening between warring governments while nuclear warheads are flying towards their cities and towns. And because the weapons are so adaptable, decisions can be made as to whether a strike is still a viable option, right up until the last possible moment.
This creates a terrifying new type of warfare, and with many other countries in the process of developing hyper weapons, this could give rise to an entirely new Cold War.