In 1957, Chinese leader Mao Publicly claimed that the world was in a process of radical change, and advocated for the East Wind ‘Dong Feng’ to one day overpower the West Wind.
Over the last few years, China’s hypersonic weapons arsenal has emerged as one of the most advanced in the world, with the Dongfeng-17
(DF-17) proving to be the PLA’s prized U.S. Ship-killer. Recent years have seen the DF-17 being tested deliberately against mock-ups of U.S. Naval Ship formations. Flight tests first began in January 2014 and continued throughout the decade at a rate reportedly 20 times higher
than the United States according to then-Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Mike Griffin. The missile, a two-stage solid-fueled rocket, was first showcased in October 2019 at a military parade in Beijing, leading experts to believe it has entered into operational service, and per recent reports, has been deployed
along China’s southeastern coast facing Taiwan. China in classic saber-rattling form has denied this accusation
, claiming that the range of the DF -17 is not necessary to place forward to strike Taiwan, however, the DF-17 is a ship killer, and increasing its range from China’s coasts would cover more sea lanes and more ocean that the U.S. Navy operates in.
“…the hypersonic ballistic missiles would be for the purposes of “anti-access” and “area denial” should foreign military powers attempt to intervene in a potential Taiwan Strait conflict…” John Feng; China Media Plays Down ‘Speculations’ That Beijing Moved Hypersonic Missiles Closer to Taiwan in the South China Morning Post; October 20, 2020.
The DF-17 is unlike any threat the American military has faced before. Boasting a maximum range of 2,500km (~1,500 miles), this medium-range missile system can be launched from multitudes of locations given its road-mobile basing. The DF-17 missile designed to negate U.S. Aircraft Carriers and their presence
in the first and second island chains can be outfitted for conventional or nuclear weapons. When equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), the missile is capable of reaching speeds up to Mach 20 plus while maintaining a high level of maneuverability with unpredictability as it skips, bounces, and accelerates through the atmosphere before re-entering at maximum velocity, giving the intended target little time to react. Variety of launch locations, speed, maneuverability, unpredictability of its glide phase, and small timeframe at terminal velocity makes the DF-17 able to overcome currently deployed missile defense capabilities. The DF-17’s speed allows it to outrun targeting by today’s sensors and shooters. A nuclear variant of the DF-17 would have the effect of reducing Presidential Decision Time in responding to a nuclear threat.
Hypersonic weapons, such as the DF-17’s glide vehicle, generate enormous amounts of heat and therefore can be tracked and targeted within the extremes of its maximum maneuvering path during the glide phase, which provides the longest flight time to be targeted over the boost and terminal flight phases. Active defense of the DF-17 is theoretically possible with sensors and shooters located in the space domain and if aware of where it is targeted on a fixed terminal site defense of high hyper-speed interceptors or directed energy. The United States has begun to invest in sensors in space to see and track this threat with the development of its Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor
(HBTSS) by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Space Development Agency (SDA). The United States has yet to throw its full weight and resources at defeating this type of weapon as their focus is on deploying an operational Hyper Sonic Glide weapon – developed by both the U.S. Army
& U.S. Navy and USAF
. The Pentagon has expressed interest in constructing hyper glide defense systems, such as the ‘Glide Breaker’ project developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Hypersonic defense still remains at a pace that is impossible to keep up or ahead with the development and deployment of these weapons by our adversaries, with only $224 million being requested for hypersonic defense for MDA in FY21, reduced almost half of what was requested in FY20.
China is leading the charge towards operational hypersonic weapons, to include scramjet-powered cruise missiles leaving the Russians’ ‘Avangard’ HGV
. a close second and India tested and is developing their own HGV earlier this month. Last week following Russia’s successful test of its Zircon missile, the U.S. Air Force announced its successful test of an Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), which is expected to become the U.S. military’s first operational hypersonic missile. In March this year, the United States announced a successful test of a hypersonic glide body that the Navy and Army are integrating together to be deployed on land and sea by 2023. China has also operationally deployed the DF-21
, a ballistic medium-range missile, as well as demonstrated the carrying capability of the new hypersonic-armed H-6N bomber
, to further add complexity to ensuring anti-access/area denial in the first and second island chains.
A defining moment is forthcoming as the U.S. strategic approach to achieving substantial and irreversible relative competitive advantage absolutely depends on the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative
(PDI). Most significantly, our strategic and geographic positional advantage must be defended and protected – U.S. Homeland Guam the westernmost U.S. territory and represents the front-line for our strategic deterrence, and our ability to preserve a peaceful, free, and open Indo-Pacific. Guam is the epicenter of American Strategic Deterrence in the Pacific. This includes missile defense, strategic force presence, and in the near future – hypersonic deployment capabilities in order to deter those threats emerging from China to maintain the existing international order for a free and open Pacific.
As China and Russia move forward to develop and field hypersonic missiles, it is essential that the United States take rapid steps to counter these capabilities with both the rapid development of U.S. hypersonic missiles and the ability to defend against hypersonic missiles as discussed in the DoD Missile Defense Review
. Effective defense begins with being able to track and target hypersonic missiles from space. The effective tracking coupled later with interceptor, directed energy, or hypervelocity projectiles has the promise of providing a cost-effective means to address this growing threat facing the United States.
The threat of hypersonic missiles can change the balance of power and the established World Order. The United States’ strategic objective must be to make the potential use of these weapons both impossible and irrelevant. The PDI and the positional advantage of Guam will seek to achieve that objective.
No matter how hard the “East Wind” blows, we must continue to a tack against the wind to sail forward in keeping true to our compass bearing.