US Arms Treaty Pullout Fuels Race for Hypersonic Weapons

Intermediate-range arms are Russia's reason for development

Russia reports continued advancements with hypersonic weapons, which aim to circumvent, at least partially, the US missile defense systems. The Russian Defense Ministry report that they are testing launchers, and the weapons may be deployed soon.

Hypersonic missiles, especially nuclear versions, are a potentially big problem for the US, as they reduce time to strike and increase the risk of nuclear exchanges as a result. Yet the drive by Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to get the hypersonics directly resulted from US policy decisions.

Russia, China, and the US all had the option of pursuing the hypersonics but didn’t for years. Russia kept theirs on the back burner, in no small part as a foil to the missile defense systems that the US is always deploying.

The real push came in the past year, however, when the US withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Banning medium-range nukes was very important to Russia, and the end of INF raises a risk for them that the US will put medium-range nukes in Europe, something the US has done nothing to assure them won’t happen.

Russia’s response was to say that if the US does that, they would respond by putting ship-mounted hypersonic nukes in the Atlantic, to increase their own capabilities. The US clearly wouldn’t want that, but absent a deal can’t really prevent it.

This is the sort of thing that might be addressed in a New START limitation treaty, though the US has been slow to approach this negotiation as well. Russia, believing the US doesn’t want a New START, is responding with arms development, threatening a new race.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of