Welcome to the hypersonic arms race and a brave new world

Following Russia, China and the US in the quest for stealth and speed, French president Emmanuel Macron has now entered France into the hypersonic arms race. It is the fourth country out of the five permanent UN Security Council members to enter the 21st century’s version of the global arms race.

Hypersonics are like missiles that travel at over five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) but are able to manoeuvre in mid-flight, making them much harder to track and intercept with weapons defence shields than traditional missiles.

"We have decided to issue a contract for a hypersonic glider" that can travel over 6,000 kilometres an hour, Defence Minister Florence Parly said last week, promising a test flight by the end of 2021, the Economic Times reported.

"Many countries are acquiring them (hypersonic weapons) and we have the know-how to develop them. We could no longer afford to wait," Parly said, unveiling project V-MaX (Experimental Manoeuvering Vehicle).

France could thus be the first European nation to develop its own hypersonic weapons. And what is their motivation? The changing nature of warfare and Russia’s and China’s forging ahead with hypersonic weaponry that is able to evade current missile defence shields given their manoeuvrability, unlike current ICBMs that follow a particular trajectory, or more predictable route.

"The goal is high-speed manoeuvrability,” explained a report by France’s DGA defence procurement agency. “That’s how it differs from a ballistic trajectory. Once the initial speed is reached, we can play with speed and altitude to move up and down, to the left and to the right, creating a trajectory that is more difficult to intercept,” the National Interest reported.

Given this brave new world of hypersonic warfare, a new global arms race seems to be on the rise with no major superpower wanting to lag behind and render themselves vulnerable to attack by this new generation of weaponry.

The French expression is clearly apt here: Plus ca change… the more things change, the more they stay the same.



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