The United States, Russia, and China all tested new super-fast “hypersonic” munitions in 2018, escalating a global competition for weaponry that can strike farther and harder than ever before and potentially defeat existing defenses.
The Russian and Chinese hypersonics tests were the most dramatic. But the much quieter American trial pointed toward a much more immediate and widespread transformation of military capabilities than the Russians or Chinese are likely to achieve.
The world’s armies have long eyed faster munitions, especially faster munitions that also are maneuverable. Swifter, nimbler rockets could strike with less warning and evade missile-defense systems. Speedier, more streamlined artillery shells could travel farther and impact with greater destructive force.
Most experts agree: If a weapon can travel at least five times the speed of sound, it’s hypersonic—although some say the munition must be maneuverable, too, to be effective.
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