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Despite spending more than the next nine biggest militaries combined, the United States is apparently behind China and Russia in the development of air launched hypersonic missiles.

B-52H Launches AGM-183 Air Launched Rapid Response hypersonic missile

To be classed as hypersonic, a weapon must be able to travel at speeds above mach 5. Hypersonic missiles must also be able to maneuver. While the speed and maneuverability of a hypersonic weapons does have defensive benefits, it is also true that the ability of missiles to maneuver at very high speed is limited due to the momentum and tremendous stresses major changes in direction will place of on the airframe and control surfaces of the missile. Any attempt at a sharp turn will tear the missile apart. Consequently, its tremendous velocity and relative lack of maneuverability make it highly vulnerable to anti-missile systems that can put a cloud of projectiles into it flight path as it approaches its target.

Hypersonic missile are subjected to tremendous heat generated by air friction and thus may not be able to effectively use their top speed, especially in the lower atmosphere.

While there is much talk about hypersonic missiles skimming above the ground or sea to avoid radar, doing so radically reduces their top speed and range.


1) The hypersonic AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), is being developed by Lockheed Martin and has had two successful test in the 4 months. The weapon uses a rocket motor to accelerate to over well over Mach 5 (some reports have top speed as great as Mach 20) and then when the fuel runs out, the payload separates from the rocket and continues its journey to its target by gliding.

It has a range of approximately 1000 miles.

Note: range can vary greatly depending of the speed and altitude at which the missile in launched.

2) Competing designs for the 2nd hypersonic missile system are being developed by Lockheed Martin and a competing group led by Raytheon and Boeing. Unlike the AGM-183, the missile, the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), uses air breathing scramjet engines. Reports on range are sketchy.

On the other hand Russia claims to have a Mach 27 hypersonic designed for preemptive strikes called Avangard. Like the AGG-183 it is a boost glide hypersonic weapon. Avangard uses an ICBM booster to reach an altitude of just 62 miles, or a third of low-Earth orbit then zooms down toward its target at Mach 27, or 20,716 miles an hour.

Avangard certainly sound impressive, but Russia has been known to overstate the effectiveness and performance of its weapons. For more the two U.S. missiles see:

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