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Another Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test by Russia

Dr Roshan Writes: The flight test of the Russian hypersonic glide vehicle last week depicts the constant endeavour by the major powers to match each other in the development of niche technologies.

Dr Roshan Writes: The flight test of the Russian hypersonic glide vehicle last week depicts the constant endeavour by the major powers to match each other in the development of niche technologies. The recent Russian test involved the launch of an SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile from eastern Russia. They had  conducted the test last year also . According to the Jane’s report the Russians are developing this  hypersonic glide vehicle ,under its  ‘Project 4202’ programme..  The Russians had been developing new Yu-71 vehicle for several years. The main objective is to produce under Project 4202 a small number of glide vehicles by the end of the decade that may be equipped with nuclear warheads[1]. Thus they are keeping the option open, to use these vehicles either in the conventional war fighting situation or  under a nuclear scenario. Most importantly “This would give Russia the ability to deliver a guaranteed small-scale strike against a target of choice; if coupled with an ability to penetrate missile defences, Moscow would also retain the option of launching a successful single-missile attack[2].”  The Russians are also trying to diversify this technology and they are stated to be developing hypersonic cruise missiles for their naval assets. The development of this technology was started by the US through its ‘Conventional Prompt Global Strike’ program. Through these weapons they had projected that the US now has the capability to hit precisely targets anywhere in the world within a span of 30 minutes. Since then both China and the Russians are trying to develop this capability. China has already conducted number of tests and its Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle has been conducting extreme high-speed manoeuvres. It is alleged that the high-speed DF-ZF also could be used with conventional warheads, as part of what the Pentagon calls, “anti-access, area denial” weapons China is developing to threaten U.S. forces near China’s coasts[3].

These vehicles are important because it is believed that they can neutralise the Ballistics Missile Defense Programme. Since these vehicles move at a hypersonic speed between Mach 5 to Mach 10 (up to 7000 miles /hour), it becomes difficult for the adversary to track and target these vehicles. Also this is a challenging technology to master because it is difficult to manage the high pressure and the large amount of heat generated in the process due to the hypersonic speed which it creates. The cat and mouse game in the technology field is already playing havoc with the arms control regime; development of new domains will challenge the world further. The Americans are already thinking of countering this measure by having plans to build laser weapons to counter hypersonic threats. Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring stated that “I’ve asked for $23 million to begin a low-power laser demonstrator this year to demonstrate the feasibility by 2021[4]”. All these developments are not good for the world and the sad part is that the international organisations do not have the mechanism to control the development of niche technologies by the major powers. When it comes to controlling the horizontal proliferation, a lot of synergy can be seen amongst the major powers,  but when it is the vertical proliferation which needs to be controlled than the synergy is lacking.  In all these technological demonstrations what needs to be comprehended is where does India stand? Is it trying to keep pace with these new inventions or  is it letting the technological gap to deepen?

End Notes:

[1] Gertz Bill,‘Russian Tested Hypersonic Glide Veichle in February’, The Washington Free Beacon, June 25 2015,

[2]Ibid

[3]  Gertz Bill, ‘ Russia tests Hypersonic Glide Veichle on missiles’,The Washington Free Beacon, April 22,2016

[4]Ibid

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