Hypersonic missiles: Where the technology leads

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 29, 2015

Rajaram Nagappa, Head-ISSSP, National Institute of Advanced Studies

Bulletin of Atomic ScientistsParticipants in this roundtable display consensus on one point: that the world already possesses enough destructive capacity and there’s no need to add more. But whereas Mark Gubrud advocates a ban on hypersonic missile testing, Tong Zhao and I feel that—for better or worse—hypersonic technology is here to stay.

Technology development generally takes the form of an S-curve. Improvements come slowly in the early stages of development. Later, breakthroughs allow rapid improvement. Finally, the technology’s physical limits are reached, only modest improvements are possible, and the curve levels off. Ballistic missiles have reached the last stage. Limits on their performance can be overcome only through the development of new technology—such as hypersonic missiles.

Hypersonics provide, with their speed and promptness of delivery, a means to gain and preserve the military high ground. It is inconceivable that nations already invested in gaining that high ground would agree to a ban on hypersonic testing.

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