From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, ICBM
Mains level : Hypersonic weapons race
China recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile while Russia announced that it had successfully test-launched a Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile in early October.
What are Hypersonic Weapons?
- The speed of sound is Mach 1, and speeds upto Mach 5 are supersonic and speeds above Mach 5 are hypersonic.
- They are manoeuvrable weapons that can fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, five times the speed of sound.
- A number of other countries – including Australia, India, France, Germany, and Japan—are developing hypersonic weapons technology.
Features of HSWs
- Trajectory: Ballistic Missiles are long-range missile that leaves the earth’s atmosphere before re-entry, pursuing a parabolic trajectory towards its target
- Maneuverability: HSW travel within the atmosphere and can manoeuvre midway which combined with their high speeds make their detection and interception extremely difficult.
- Stealth: Radars and air defences cannot intercept them till they are very close. They can penetrate most missile defences and further compress the timelines for response by a nation under attack.
Types of Hypersonic Weapons
There are two classes of hypersonic weapons:
- Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV): They are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target.
- Hypersonic cruise missiles (HCM): They are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines, or scramjets, after acquiring their target.
Where does the US stand?
- The US has active hypersonic development programs.
- It is said to be lagging behind China and Russia because most US hypersonic weapons are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead.
- It is in process of developing prototypes to assist in the evaluation of potential weapon system concepts and mission sets.
Hypersonic program in India
- HSTDV program: India is developing an indigenous, dual-capable hypersonic cruise missile as part of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) program.
- Capacity: India operates approximately 12 hypersonic wind tunnels and is capable of testing speeds of up to Mach 13.
- In-operation: The DRDO has successfully tested a Mach 6 scramjet in June 2019 and September 2020 using the demonstrated scramjet engine technology.
DRDO has validated many associated crucial technologies such as:
- Aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic maneuvers
- Use of scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at the hypersonic flow
- Thermo-structural characterization of high-temperature materials
- Separation mechanism at hypersonic velocities has been validated
- There are rising tensions between the US, China and Russia worsening the geopolitical situation worldwide.
- The focus for hypersonic weapons is only set to accelerate more countries to invest significant resources in their design and development.