October 16, 2017

HMM: Could Hypersonic Weapons Make Nuclear War More Likely?

The extremely high speeds hypersonic weapons travel at reduce an adversary’s ability to react to them. Suppose two nuclear-armed countries—let’s call them India and Pakistan—have hypersonic weapons and nuclear weapons. Both weapons are located in each country’s capital. A hypersonic missile launched from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, will reach the Indian capital of New Delhi in just over six minutes.

Under this scenario, India has just six minutes to decide whether the attack is real, what to do about it, and to do something before the missiles hit. That’s virtually no time at all. India might well choose to launch its own weapons as soon as it detects an incoming attack to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground. But what if the attack is the result of an early warning system malfunction, or was launched by accident? By the time India figures that out, the retaliatory strike — and perhaps a nuke — is already underway. The United States, China, and Russia could all have similar problems with one another.

The good news is that hypersonic weapons are far more difficult to develop, build, and deploy than even nuclear-tipped ICBMs — putting them out of reach of rogue nations or terrorists for the foreseeable future. And the major powers have decades of (admittedly tense) experience of dealing with the End of the World on a hair-trigger alert.

That said, the US, Russia, and China need to get serious about faster and more-reliable warning systems (and perhaps upgraded hotlines) before we hit the first crisis of the coming hypersonic era.

InstaPundit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.