How Us and Japan Plan to Counter the Growing Threat of Hypersonic Weapons

The US and Japan face new threats from Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons.
hypersonic weapons defense thadd

The US and Japan resolved to sign a 5-year treaty for leading research on emerging technologies that will boost their defense against hypersonic weapons systems.

This new collaboration will enable engineers and scientists to team up on growing issues associated with defense, including upgrading space-based capabilities, countering hypersonic weapon threats, and much more.

The encounter between the 2 countries took place a day after North Korea tested its hypersonic missile, “Hwasong-8.” At the same time, China accelerated the development of its hypersonic glide vehicle that can be deployed from a small orbital attack system.   


What are hypersonic weapons?

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MISSILE DEFENSE DEFEAT by U.S. Army Acquisition. Public Domain.

Hypersonic weapons can fly at Mach 5 speed or more, which is 5 times the speed of sound. These weapons are tough to detect by radars because of their speed. Missiles traveling at hypersonic speed can effortlessly defeat current anti-missile defense systems due to their inability to react to objects traveling at hypersonic speeds.

This visionary attack munition flies on different trajectories, destabilizing existing defenses.

Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs): Hypersonic Glide Vehicles are mounted on the top of ballistic missiles, which glide back at speed over Mach 5 towards their target through the atmosphere. 


Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs): These missiles travel at hypersonic speed and are directed during the whole progression of their glide.      

North Korea fired the “Hwasong-8”

North Koreas ballistic missile
North Korea’s ballistic missile by Stefan Krasowski. Licensed under CC by 2.0

North Korea’s fast development of hypersonic weapons, sets a substantial threat to Japan and the US military bases. 

North Korea proved that they successfully tested the Hwasong-8, a hypersonic weapon, and this developed long-distance cruise missile hit its target in the Japanese Sea, which is a genuine threat to Japan today as the country has no anti-missile defense system qualified for intercepting hypersonic missiles reliably.


DF-17: China’s advanced hypersonic weapon system     

Dongfeng 2 Missile
Dongfeng-2 Missile by Gary Todd, licensed under CC by 1.0

China had shocked US intelligence and the entire world when it test-fired its hypersonic missile DF-17 that was launched over the sea in China. 

The HGV works differently compared to intercontinental or standard ballistic missiles. Instead of launching and landing in a standard curve, the HGV keeps its trajectory low and achieves a speed over Mach 5, which makes it even harder to detect.

Standard Missile-6 (SM-6): The US most powerful defense against hypersonic weapons

The US has only the SM-6 missile weapon system for knocking off exceedingly maneuverable hypersonic weapons. This missile can execute anti-ship strikes, anti-air combat, and ballistic missile defense missions.  


The SM-6 missile accomplished its first GTV (Guided Test Vehicle) takeoff in 2008. The weapon combines terminal guidance systems and a blast fragmentation warhead capable of striking land-based targets and providing attacking capabilities against several other fleets.    

SM-6 weapons system has promising competencies in countering incoming hypersonic weapons threats. The US Missile Defense Agency is attempting to upgrade the missile to include various space and terrestrial-based sensors, plus several types of interceptors that will help develop a stratified defense structure against hypersonic threats. 

Hypersonic missiles are a big threat

Since the United States and Japan joined forces to create a new defensive system against hypersonic weapons, there is new hope for a good solution in the short and long term.


A new generation of SM-6 missiles may be the quick-fix answer as well. Other systems will be tested until the threats posed by today’s supersonic weapons can be neutralized with new generations of defensive systems that are much more effective than those that exist today.

Featured image credit: Missile Defense Agency FTO-01 Flight Test by Missile Defense Agency, Public Domain.

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