Hypersonic systems are the “highest technical priority” in countering China, according to Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
Griffin spoke at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Conference on Tuesday, and he stressed how important it was for him that the U.S. champions hypersonics as the top priority – especially when countries like China and Russia could essentially take out the American aircraft carriers and land-based troops with hypersonic weapons they already have.
Hypersonic glide vehicles can travel five times the speed of sound below missile defenses and carry nuclear weapons.
“The advantage of hypersonic systems is broadly speaking, irrespective of their range, that they underfly missile defense and they overfly air defense. That’s a niche we haven’t spent much time in recently,” Griffin said.
Griffin said the United States needs to invest more into hypersonic capabilities to keep up with China and Russia, who are spending billions of dollars on the technology. Griffin said that his department will be seeking a budget for it in fiscal year 2020.
“In round numbers, China has done 20 times as many hypersonic weapons tests as has the United States over the last decade,” Griffin said.
Griffin said hypersonic weapons put America’s battle groups and forward-deployed forces at risk.
“When the Chinese can deploy tactical or regional hypersonic systems, they hold at risk our carrier battle groups. They hold our entire surface fleet at risk. They hold at risk our forward-deployed land-based forces,” Griffin said.
“Without our ability to defend and without at least an equal response capability on the offensive side, then what we’ve done is we have allowed a situation to exist where our deployed forces are held at risk. We cannot do the same for them,” Griffin said. “And so our only response is either to let them have their way, or to go nuclear. Well, that should be an unacceptable situation for the United States.”
While money allocated to hypersonic systems has increased from $85.5 million in fiscal year 2017 to $256.7 million in the fiscal year 2019 request, the figure still falls short of where it needs to be to compete with Russia and China.
“I didn’t take this job so that we could regain parity with our adversaries. As I’ve taken to saying: ‘I want to see their hand and raise them one. I want to make them worry about catching up with us again,’” Griffin said. “Any American, any ally or partner that we have who doesn’t see it that way, I don’t have time for you.”