The Age of Hypersonic War


By Dr. Chris Flaherty


The Age of Hypersonic War is in its infancy. Developing Hypersonic propulsion to convey a Projectile-Warhead has the potential to bring about a radical shift in political-strategic, and strategic-tactical thinking – which will be the focus in this paper. This short overview paper looks to identify the near, and far-future strategic-tactical concepts likely to underpin using and countering Hypersonic Forces. Piloted or unmanned Hypersonic Flight Vehicles have been current for the last half-century, and First-Generation Hypersonic Glide Vehicles – upgrades to existing missile systems, or future Hypersonic Cruise Missiles are now coming into use. This short over-view paper will focus on the following topics: (1) Hypersonic Propelled Weapon Characteristics; (2) Projectile-Warhead options; (3) The radical shift in strategic-tactical thinking; (4) The Immediacy of Attack Paradigm, Pre-Emption and Anticipatory Attack; (5) Run-away future procurement; and, (6) The future of war using Hypersonic Forces. The relationship with Space-to-Space war will also be covered through-out this paper.


“FIGURE 1: Illustrates two types of Hypersonic Propelled Weapons: (A) The Hypersonic Cruise Missile traveling along the Earth’s Surface towards its target; and, (B) A Conventional Ballistic Missile First-Stage Rocket Booster releases in Space a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle carrying a Projectile-Warhead.”

The flight trajectory of a Conventional Ballistic Missile, and its released Re-entry Vehicle (carrying the Projectile-Warhead), follows a largely predictable Arch of Approach. In basic terms, the Conventional Ballistic Missile, “offer hypersonic speed but little or no manoeuvrability.” (Speier, 2017) The unique characteristics of a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon are increased effectiveness, in terms of reach, manoeuvrability, speed, and altitude, “[making]…  these … challenging to develop and to defend against. (Speier, 2017) A Hypersonic Propelled Weapon largely manoeuvres through the Earth’s Atmosphere and is not predictable, its travel-path can occur in much faster time frames, and it can threaten multiple targets, before one is struck.


A key difference between a Conventional Re-entry Vehicle and the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, is the former’s trajectory is ballistic, and is susceptible to attack; for instance, from an Exo-Atmospheric Missile: Kinetic Kill Vehicle (discussed later in this paper); whereas, a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle is not. Before release of a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle from its First-Stage Rocket Booster, this may still be susceptible to attack (Speier, 2017). After its release at around 40 to 100 kilometres (62 miles) altitude the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle will fly above the maximum effective altitudes of most surface-to-air missiles,

“but very likely below the altitudes where … [an Exo-Atmospheric Missile: Kinetic Kill Vehicle]… are designed to intercept inbound Re-entry Vehicles.” (Speier, 2017)

The Hypersonic Glide Vehicle are largely unpowered, designed to produce lift glide at hypersonic speeds to their target at the top of the Earth’s Atmosphere. Fitted with a small propulsion system to provide additional velocity, some attitude or directional control can also be gained, if this modification is used. Launched by a Conventional Ballistic Missile’s First-Stage Rocket Booster, the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle containing the Projectile-Warhead is released at an appropriate altitude, velocity, and flight path angle enabling its glide towards its target. The trajectory of a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle is different from the path taken by a manoeuvring Conventional Re-entry Vehicle, as it spends a negligible portion (if any) of its flight in ballistic mode (Speier, 2017).

The Hypersonic Glide Vehicle can pull-up after re-entering the Earth’s Atmosphere approaching its target in a relatively flat glide. The advantage this offers, is it lessens an Adversaries’ detection time, and thereby reduces the time given for it to be engaged and destroyed. Hypersonic Glide Vehicles have the ability to use in-flight updates to attack a different target than originally planned (within the reach of the weapon system). This gives an unpredictable trajectory, as the vehicle (like the Hypersonic Cruise Missile) can hold extremely large areas at risk throughout much of their flight (Speier, 2017).


The Hypersonic Cruise Missile has two propulsion systems: a Rocket Boost Module likely accelerates to around Mach 4 or 5 before an air-breathing engine capable of producing thrust at hypersonic speeds switches-in. This is a supersonic combustion ramjet (Scramjet), for sustained Hypersonic Flight to its target achieving speed greater than Mach 5. A Hypersonic Cruise Missile’s range is notionally in the vicinity of 1,000 kilometres (539.9 nautical miles), which it could strike a target within several minutes (Speier, 2017). Current Conventional Cruise Missiles are effective due to their good manoeuvrability, and unpredictable trajectories but still operate at relatively low speeds (Speier, 2017). Whereas, Hypersonic Cruise Missile have manoeuvrability, and erratic flight paths at greater speeds (Aarten, 2020). Put another way, the missiles display: “unpredictable … [and long-range]… trajectories, resulting in target ambiguity” (Speier, 2017). This results in the ability to penetrate most defences, “[and render]… the logic behind contemporary missile defence systems obsolete.” (Aarten, 2020)

The Hypersonic Cruise Missile altitude is presumed to be around 100,000 feet (30,480 meters); others suggest a cruising limit of around 20 to 30 kilometres (18 miles) altitude (Speier, 2017). Dictated by how high-up an air-breathing Scramjet can achieve appropriate pressures for combustion in its engine. The high-altitude may be within the upper end of the operating envelope of most current in-service capable surface-to-air missiles; however, this would be negated by the combination of altitude, manoeuvrability, and speed. The Hypersonic Cruise Missile is made using resistant materials for effective thermal management to sustain hypersonic speed. This thermal protection system (in common with a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle) may inherently harden the missile against laser weapons, as a longer laser spot dwell time is required to burn-through or sufficiently degrade the thermal protection skin of the vehicle (Speier, 2017).

“FIGURE 2: A generic illustration showing common Hypersonic Cruise Missile features. A. Aerodynamic form, made from heat-resistant materials for effective thermal management to sustain hypersonic speed, radar reduced and stealth capable. B. Air-intake scoop for Scramjet Propulsion System C. Fin and tail assembly to enable manoeuvre. D. Rocket Boost Module.”


The major radical shift in the development of a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon is not the Projectile-Warhead, but how it is propelled. From 2019, the current First-Generation, “[Avengard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle and Kinzhal Missile] … can be equipped with both nuclear and conventional warheads” (Aarten, 2020). However, the weapon propelled by a vehicle at hypersonic speeds can be any number of options, spanning solid (kinetic) projectiles made from tungsten, depleted uranium, conventional explosive, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. It is argued, a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon possess potential to solely use kinetic energy, and high impact speed to destroy or damage a target (Speier, 2017). In relation to the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, its high kinetic energy affords significant destructive power, even without, or in addition to, the destructive power of an explosive warhead (Speier, 2017).

It could be envisaged that a near, or far-future system would be automated, and swap-in/out a Projectile-Warhead depending on strategic-tactical requirements before the launch. The decision to use a Projectile-Warhead Option will likely be driven by Artificial Intelligence decision systems, part of a modified strategic-tactical decision process driven by a compressed time frame (discussed below).


A radical shift in weapons technology utilising Hypersonic Propulsion, is likely to be part of a series of radical near, and far-future shifts in strategic-tactical thinking. The conventional view, is that Hypersonic Forces will be mainly reserved for prime targets: national leadership, Command and Control systems, strategic forces (a carrier strike group), or storage facilities for Weapons of Mass Destruction (Speier, 2017). Hypersonic Forces offer a radical shift in strategic-tactical thinking, in five areas: (1) Ability to penetrate defences; (2) Compress decision time; (3) Unpredictable trajectories; (4) Target ambiguity; (5) Destabilizing; and, (6) Decapitating first strike option (Speier, 2017; Aarten, 2020). One scenario, exclusive to an Adversary who has a high-level reliance on effective defences against a Conventional Ballistic Missile, is attack by a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon that nullifies their defences. This will likely have a greater strategic-tactical destabilizing effect, than an Adversary who has always been vulnerable to attack. The lack-of, or a largely reduced warning time is seen as a major destabilizing effect (Speier, 2017). This problem will be discussed in the next section on the Immediacy of Attack Paradigm, and its relationship with Pre-Emption and Anticipatory Attack.


The ‘defence against’ problem currently posed by Hypersonic Propelled Weapons, is reduce warning times, and high speed manoeuvre. To counter these advantages requires a new generation of highly responsive and capable defence options, such as:

“new, space- or terrestrial-based area defence systems, such as boost intercept or highly capable midcourse intercept systems … [however]… these … do not currently exist and would require significant investments to develop and deploy.” (Speier, 2017)

In the case of advanced terminal (or point) defences these are understood to be effective,

“however, such point defences would likely only be deployed to protect high-value facilities or weapon systems; protecting all potential targets including civilian facilities could be cost prohibitive.” (Speier, 2017)

It is also largely accepted simultaneous salvo-attacks using Hypersonic Propelled Weapons, relying on final-destination manoeuvre would likely defeat defences (Speier, 2017).

Table 1 looks at six strategies an Adversary might seek to avoid destruction of their military, by attacking Hypersonic Forces.


DEVOLUTION Devolving Command and Control to lower levels of authority who can order widely dispersed and distributed forces.
DISTRIBUTED Adopting an organisation based on widely dispersed and distributed forces.
CONCEALMENT Using camouflage (dummy-targets), or mobile, underground facilities (also examples of Distribution, and Hardening), or based underseas.


Use of bunkers, silos underground, or heavy missile and other weapons defence. Multiple redundancy of many Command and Control and other forces capable of replicating the same military function or task (also examples of Devolution and Distribution).
HAIR-TRIGGER Adopt a policy of Pre-Emptive-Anticipatory Attacks.
RETALIATION Guarantee massive and highly destructive military action.

Source: Speier, 2017; Various Sources (Author’s Analysis).

It has been argued, counter-strategies such as Devolution and Distribution could increase the risk of accidental war by a commander usurping authority and launching an attack. It could happen that an Adversary’s state politically fractures, and the risk arises of subnational (a break-away region) capturing former national forces and using these (Speier, 2017).


A major source of global instability could involve a scenario where a lesser power Adversary, uses their Hypersonic Force as a deterrent against greater power intervention (Speier, 2017). A lesser power Adversary with Hypersonic Propelled Weapons,

“could affect the force deployments of major powers … [such as]… carrier strike groups might be pushed further out to sea or an intervening power’s regional military bases might become exposed to more effective attacks.” (Speier, 2017)

Radical technology shift towards Hypersonic Forces is viewed as deconstructing the current international order based on parity and arms control (Aarten, 2020). Adopting Hypersonic Forces alone (let alone the development of Space-Based Forces) could fundamentally dismantle the current international order in as far, a lesser power Adversary,

“might be emboldened if they saw themselves as possessing a deterrent against major power intervention.” (Speier, 2017)

Fundamentally, Hypersonic Propelled Weapons have powerful capabilities that makes their acquisition a desirable goal for a number of countries (Speier, 2017). This problem relating to proliferation, investment by a weaker, or lesser power Adversary in Hypersonic Forces could foreseeably threaten a traditionally more powerful state (including the current superpowers). The problem becomes more acute where the use of chemical, or biological weapons are considered.


Increasingly, a Space-Based Infrastructure of satellites provide capabilities, such as communications, navigation, and intelligence gathering for Surface-Based militaries. The Space-Based Forces as these are currently conceived, used to defend or attack an Adversary’s satellites consist of several technology options converging into three broad weapons systems: (1) Surface-Based Anti-Satellite Missiles; (2) In-Orbit Weapons, that can be used for an on-orbit action: Orbital Anti-Satellite Missiles; and, (3) Exo-Atmospheric Missile: Kinetic Kill Vehicle, that can attack targets both inside, or outside the Earth’s Atmosphere. Case-study assessments of the actual technology of Space-to-Space war – using a kinetic attack by a satellite, show these are heavily constrained by the limits physics imposes on movement in Space, and the limitations imposed by time:

“[requiring]… deliberate … [planning]… with satellites manoeuvring for days, if not weeks or months, beforehand to get into position to have meaningful operational effects. But once an orbital threat has matched planes and set up the timing through precise orbital phasing, many opportunities can arise to manoeuvre close enough to engage a target quickly.” (Reesman, 2020)

Underpinning a Space-Based Force (that are characteristically unmanned), are the Human crewed Surface-Based Ground Stations, and Ground-Links. Surface-Based functions provide piloting and Command-and-Control. A Space-Based Force are also depended on static surface, underground silos, and mobile launch facilities. The role of a Hypersonic Force in a Control-of-Space Campaign will be to attack and destroy Space-Based Force’s Surface-Based functions.


To undertake a Control-of-Space campaign, the object:

“is not necessarily to physically conquer sectors of space but rather to reduce or eliminate Adversary satellite capabilities while ensuring one retains the ability to freely operate their own space capabilities.” (Reesman, 2020)

Use of Hypersonic Forces to enable a Control-of-Space campaign would target and destroy Ground Stations housing satellite operators; the Ground-Links used to communicate with satellites; and static surface, underground silos, and mobile launch facilities. The reason why these are targeted is that currently a Space-to-Space war: “would be fought solely with un-crewed vehicles controlled by operators on the ground” (Reesman, 2020). To defend from attack, Human operators will likely operate in devolved Command and Control facilities, that are concealed, hardened against attack, and widely dispersed and distributed.


Immediacy of Attack, is a new paradigm created by Hypersonic War. The prospect of attack by a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon, and heightened sense of Hair-Trigger Alert, translates into the ongoing proposition that an attack may have already occurred, it is yet to be detected, and that detection may not be known until the strike happens. The new proposition likely resets the Doomsday Clock, rather than its current setting of 100 seconds to midnight (Mecklin, 2020), to a notional tick-over, to a permanent past-midnight count. The Anticipatory Attack, is an attack intended to Pre-Empt an event from occurring down the timeline, is the other side of the strategic-tactical coin. The two notions: Pre-Emptive Attack, and Anticipatory Attack are likely to merge into a unified concept.

It has been hypothesized a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon increases expectation of disarming attacks being made (Speier, 2017). For instance, initial detection by an Adversary of a Conventional Ballistic Missile launch could respond with a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon, that could foreseeably strike a Conventional Ballistic Missile launch-site, before the first missile has struck its target. The strategic-tactical end-point in the use of a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon is to achieve Immediacy: seeking to destroy a target near instantaneously before there can be any reaction, such as a counter-attack. A well-known idea in science-fiction writing, Immediacy is where a projectile is instantaneously transported from where it is fired to where it will penetrate a target. In a real-world sense, Immediacy is where the firing of the projectile is largely concealed, and its penetration of a target is completely with-out warning.

In the case of using a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon against a defending Adversary, the notion of Immediacy takes on a different complexion. For instance, an Adversary, “with capable terrestrial and space sensors will have only a few minutes to know … [a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon is]… inbound” (Speier, 2017). However, in the case of a lesser power Adversary it will likely not have any significant warning. It is argued, a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon,

“[does]… not necessarily increase the vulnerability of nations that do not have missile defences; they are already vulnerable to current types of missiles.” (Speier, 2017)

The strategic-tactical problem is more likely the effect of Immediacy, rather than actual Vulnerability. The concept of Immediacy is relative, in the light of current technological constraints. The Immediacy of Attack Paradigm, is notionally not an instantaneous strike: because that is not possible, it is however, garnering tactical advantages, through: (1) Shock; (2) Surprise; and, (3) Dominance.


Table 2 shows the relative times taken to travel at Mach 20, 10, and 7 over known ranges for First-Generation Hypersonic Propelled Weapons. For instance, a surface radar would likely detect at around 3,000 kilometres (1619.8 nautical miles) a Conventional Re-entry Vehicle, at around 12 minutes before its impact. The same system would not detect a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle until around 6 minutes before its impact (Speier, 2017). The Arch of Approach for a Conventional Re-entry Vehicle releases from its First-Stage Rocket Booster,

“[and]… may reach up to Mach 25 upon re-entry. The difference, however, is that … [a Conventional Ballistic Missile]… follow a more or less predictable flight path … [and]… defence systems can estimate where the missile will re-enter and adapt accordingly.” (Aarten, 2020)

Currently, there are several known, and generic design concepts for Hypersonic Propelled Weapons. These are set-out in the table below.

TABLE 2: The relative times taken to travel at Mach 20, 10, and 7 over known ranges for First-Generation Hypersonic Propelled Weapons.


CHINA DF-31 (DF-ZF)1 MACH 10 12,000 kilometres (6,479.4 nautical miles) 56
CHINA DF-17 (DF-ZF)2 MACH 10 2,500 kilometres (1,349.8 nautical miles) 12
RUSSIAN Avengard HGV MACH 20 6,000 kilometres (3,239.7 nautical miles) 14
RUSSIAN Kinzhal Missile3 MACH 7 2,000 kilometres (1,079.9 nautical miles) 13
Generic Hypersonic Cruise Missile MACH 10 1,000 kilometres (539.9 nautical miles) 4
Generic Hypersonic Cruise Missile MACH 5 1,000 kilometres (539.9 nautical miles) 9

Sources: Aarten, 2020; Various Sources (Author’s Analysis).

  1. An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile with a range of 8,000 kilometres (4,319.6 nautical miles). The Projectile-Warhead is mounted into a DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle.
  2. A Two-Stage Solid-Fuel Rocket with a range of 1,500 kilometres (809.9 nautical miles). The Projectile-Warhead is mounted into a DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle.
  3. A Solid-Propellant Rocket. Also stated to achieve Mach 10 to Mach 12 speeds.

NOTE: Several nations are developing Hypersonic Flight Technology. The Russian and Chinese examples given here are illustrative only, as performance specifications are currently known for these technologies.


Current First-Generation Hypersonic Propelled Weapons are set to achieve far greater ranges, in relatively short time frames than those illustrated in the previous table. A Projectile-Warhead conveyed by a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle,

“[compresses]… the decision-making time to minutes – assuming that a launch has been spotted from the earliest stage.” (Aarten, 2020)

The implications of a compressed decision-making time frame can be illustrated through the well-known scenario of the time-line of U.S. actions taken responding to a Russian first strike with Conventional Nuclear Forces (Speier, 2017; Lewis, 2017).

Table 3 sets-out the time in minutes for a set of action-decisions made by the U.S. responding to a Russian first strike with a Conventional Nuclear Force. This table is updated showing the time difference where an equivalent Hypersonic Force is used, launching its attack at the same 0 minute (at the same time as a conventional first-strike). In the conventional time frame, Submarine launched missiles would be striking their targets within the first 5 minutes. However, the decision process would still be operating within a sufficient time frame to counter launch with a U.S. retaliatory strike, before the arrival of the Russian’s main force of weapons.

Table 3 shows a scenario where there are adjacent Adversaries within a 1,000 kilometres range. A Generic Hypersonic Cruise Missile traveling at Mach 10, “could cover that distance and reduce response times to about 6 minutes … [adjusted to 4 minutes].” (Speier, 2017) In such a scenario, the equivalent Hypersonic Force, attacking would destroy all retaliatory forces at the same time as the North American Aerospace Defense Command: NORAD was alerting the White House (around 4 minutes into the scenario), and near the same time that Submarine launched missiles would be striking their targets within the first 5 minutes of the scenario. If the attack was made with a force of Generic Hypersonic Cruise Missiles, traveling at Mach 5, the attack would destroy all retaliatory forces at the same time as the U.S. President and advisers are located, assemble, and briefed (around 7 minutes into the scenario), and could have made a decision to launch a counter-strike with available nuclear forces (at 13 minutes into the scenario).

Table 3 shows an attack made by forces composed of weapons such as the Avengard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle from a greater distance of 6,000 kilometres (3,239.7 nautical miles), at Mach 20. It would destroy its targets around 14 minutes into the scenario, just as the U.S. President is presumed to decide ordering a counter-strike (in the scenario time frame for Conventional Nuclear Forces attack and retaliation).

TABLE 3: A scenario illustrating the time-line of U.S. actions taken to respond to a Russian first strike with Conventional Nuclear Forces compared to use of an equivalent Adversary’s attack using Hypersonic Forces.

Sources: Speier, 2017; Lewis, 2017; Various Sources (Author’s Analysis).


Tables 2, and 3, show with longer-range vehicles, the flight time-to-strike begins to greatly extend (some 56 minutes or more), to well outside the 23 minutes scenario fully playing-out. If Space-Based sensor systems are added to the mix, these can detect Conventional Ballistic Missile launches; however, a Conventional Ballistic Missile tends to fly at higher altitudes than the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, and is detectable earlier. In general, a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle have capacity to manoeuvre once in the Earth’s Atmosphere, taking advantage of the curvature of the Earth’s Surface for cover, and radar or other line-of-site sensors will likely not detect it (Speier, 2017). Design and materials composition give stealth properties, and also confuse radar detection. As does travelling at hypersonic speeds, with a relatively low atmospheric-ballistic trajectory. It is said, the air pressure in front of the weapon will form a plasma cloud absorbing radio waves and making it practically invisible to active radar systems.


Conventional militaries conversion to Hypersonic and Space-Based Forces, are set on a path of seeking constant Asymmetric advantage through radical technology divergence. The famed 1887 Ottoman army’s Mauser rifles contract stipulated – ‘if any other nation ordered … rifles with more advanced technology, that design would be used … to fill the remainder of the Turkish order.’ Over 140 years ago, Industrialized Warfare began a process of massive technological change leading to rapid redundancy in military weapons. At some stages in history that pace has slowed, at other times it has sped-up. In the current time frame, conversion of current militaries to Hypersonic and Space-Based Forces, will lead to rapid uptake and jettisoning of technology. Near, and far-future military capability will become marked by rapid acquisition, and redundancy of technology. It can be anticipated a likely feature of Hypersonic War, will be a series of irregularly, and fast-initiated waves of new radical technological options, becoming available due to rapid technological leaps.

“FIGURE 3: Illustrates the relationship in Defence Project Management between the conventional Time, Cost, and Quality variables and emergence of ongoing Technology Improvement as a core delivery in every future capability acquisition.”

FIGURE 3 shows Technology Improvement is notionally embedded in the Quality portion of the Project Management Cost-Time-Quality balance. In high-order Defence Projects, it can be argued that delivering Technology Improvement is a core requirement. Any new military capability will need to deliver an Asymmetric advantage in future war – and a Hypersonic War will be driven by constant technological upgrading of both Hypersonic and Space-Based Forces. At its nascent stage, that process is the upgrading of current Conventional Ballistic Missile with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle. It is generally thought, that near and future prospects include First-Generation Hypersonic Cruise Missiles, along with larger Human crewed and unmanned Hypersonic Flight Vehicles able to perform functions such as: “military strike and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.” (Speier, 2017)

Historically, a fundamental tension arises in building advanced future-breaching military technology during wartime. The infamous German V2 rockets, based on advance technology, was built by a murderous regime, using slave labour. The resulting poor Quality production resulted in wide numbers of these weapons operationally failing. Fundamentally, the demands to deliver in a high stress environment convert into Time and Cost constraints, that impact on Quality. A tension between Quality, and Technology Improvement, represents a new type of three-dimensional triangular Defence Project Management balance.

Future Technology Leaps could foreseeably lead to rapid redundancy of military technology during its Project Build Phase. It is foreseeable that constant need to effectively balance four variables: Time, Cost, Quality, and emergence of ongoing Technology Improvement in a complex set of three-dimensional triangular relationships would be a core need.


The advent of Hypersonic War is not introducing a new weapon, it is use of a radical new form of propulsion that has fundamental implications for strategic-tactical thinking. In Hypersonic War all attacks are surreptitious. The threat of potential attack drives strategic-tactical thinking towards a Hair-Trigger posture for all military forces. The concept of defence is couched in terms of Pre-Emptive-Anticipatory Attack. While, the route to attack victory is couched in terms of an Immediacy of Attack Paradigm. It may be the case that the strategic-tactical response to an attack being made, as these cannot be detected, and will occur with near or complete surprise is massive retaliatory action, by surviving forces. Future forces will survive to counter-attack due to a process of extreme Devolution of Command and Control, widely dispersed and distributed. The immediate future of war is the near total conversion of conventional military capability into a mix of Hypersonic and Space-Based Forces.

A Projectile-Warhead propelled at greater than Mach 5, is too fast to detect within time, destroying target forces before a counter-strike could have been initiated. Strategic-tactical thinking will inevitably settle on Pre-Emptive-Anticipatory Attacks to counter the potential to be attacked, without warning. Scenarios can be anticipated where detection of a Conventional Ballistic Missile launch, could be responded too by a counter-attack with a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon. In some circumstances, this could foreseeably strike, only minutes after the first launch destroying the launch site, before the attacking Conventional Ballistic Missile reaches its target. It is presumed Space-Based detection systems will automatically target a potentially threatening move by an Adversary prompting a Pre-Emptive-Anticipatory Attack with a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon. The turn-around time may be completely automated, even leaving selection of an appropriate Projectile-Warhead to Artificial Intelligence decision systems, to pre-choose the best weapons solution based on intelligence, and various scenario options. However, due to Devolution of Command and Control, and wide dispersal and distribution of forces, and the high use of automation a type of Displace Targeting could emerge. That is, it is impossible to tell where the launch was initiated, and where it will ultimately target, due to the ability of a Hypersonic Propelled Weapon to manoeuvre at speed, and threaten a number of possible targets, before it strikes without warning.

The ability to compress the time frame to destroy a target, and to do so with little or no warning vastly widens the scope of the Cold War Policy of keeping a Nuclear Force on Hair-Trigger Alert. Hypersonic War is upscale: Hypersonic and Space-Based Forces will likely stay on a permanent Hair-Trigger Alert status, to deal with the Immediacy of Attack Paradigm, and be able to launch a Pre-Emptive-Anticipatory Attack to counter the potential to be attacked. Future forces will largely have a permanent Asymmetric configuration. Surface-Based (land or sea) will be Distributed in small, mobile, hard to detect, and largely automated units, capable of massive long-range firepower. While, Devolved Command and Control will be kept in deep bunkered installations on land, or underseas. The majority forces will be in Space, deep underground, and significant bases moved off-shore underseas to increase global capability for military action, while seeking to limit the military capacity of Adversary Space-Based Weapons, and Hypersonic Forces to attack. Once these new forces are established, a significant change in global strategic security will emerge with the Doomsday Clock now permanently set past midnight, as a potential attack is always in the wind, in the sense an attack has already occurred, and it is yet to be detected, and that detection may not be known until the strike happens.


  • Aarten, S.R. 2020 The Impact of Hypersonic Missiles on Strategic Stability: Russia, China, and the U.S. Militaire Spectator. Jaargang 189 (Nummer 4).
  • Lewis, J. 2017 Is Launch Under Attack Feasible? Nuclear Threat Initiative Organization Webpage.
  • Mecklin, J. (Editor) 2020 Doomsday Clock Statement. Science and Security Board. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
  • Reesman, R. Wilson, J.R. 2020 The Physics of Space War: How Orbital Dynamics Constrain Space-to-Space Engagements. The Aerospace Corporation (October).
  • Speier, R.H. Nacouzi, G. Lee, C. Moore, R.M. 2017 Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of a New Class of Weapons. RAND Corporation.


Chris Flaherty authored the Terrorism Research Center’s report – Dangerous Minds (2012). He was the co-primary author, along with Robert J. Bunker of the book – Body Cavity Bombers: The New Martyrs (iUniverse, 2013). Two essays of his, from 2003 and 2010 were reprinted in the Terrorism Research Center’s book – Fifth Dimensional Operations (iUniverse, 2014). He recently contributed a book chapter – The Role of CCTV in Terrorist TTPs, edited by Dave Dilegge, Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Alma Keshavarz, the book – Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities, a Small Wars Journal anthology, published on behalf of the Small Wars Foundation with Xlibris (2019).

Dr Chris Flaherty


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