Russian arrest of hypersonic expert shows stakes of race
Russia and the US are researching hypersonic weapons technology. GlobalData explores how Russia’s detention of a hypersonic flight researcher demonstrates the high stakes of the race.
You only need to witness the grandeur of the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group spearheaded by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to recognise that there’s an international renewed interest in sea power projection, and warships are at its heart.
On 12 August Russia detained the head of NIPGS, an institute researching hypersonic flight. The organisation had, under the direction of the plasma scientist, Alexander Kuranov, been participating in Russia-US hypersonic conferences for exchanges on aerodynamics.
William Davies, associate analyst at GlobalData comments: “This arrest shows the stakes of hypersonic research, as both the US and Russia are investing heavily in the technology. The US is advancing a number of programmes including the long range hypersonic weapon (LRHW), whilst Russia has already fielded two separate hypersonic weapons.”
Davies continues: “This arrest shows how seriously the Russian government are taking the industry and suggests that they consider their hypersonic research to be advanced enough that they need to protect its strategic importance. This is the second researcher in several years that has been arrested for purported treason, and this action will be seen as a message domestically about the secrecy of their operations.”
Hypersonic weapons have the potential to affect strategic balance. Their real benefit is their ability to strike at distance with little warning, giving the possessing nation the ability to strike against time-critical targets or deny access by deploying the weapons strategically. While they could potentially be armed with nuclear warheads, their true value is in smaller munitions, enabling them to perform rapid, damaging strikes that take out enemy infrastructure.
Russia is considered to be a leader in hypersonic technology, and in 2019 fielded the Avangard missile which Russia claim is capable of travelling up to Mach 27 (32,000 km/h), followed by the Kinzhal, or Dagger, which can be air-launched.
Hypersonic missiles are becoming a vital aspect of Russia and the US’s strategic arsenals and the recent arrests show that Russia considers itself a leading state in the technology which needs to closely guard itself.
The GlobalData report 'Hypersonic Technologies (Defense) - Thematic Research' outlines major players in the industry, as well as which direction investment is likely to take in the next 24 months. It outlines the technology behind the weapons, as well as potential barriers to its uptake.
To get multidomain integration, defence has to join as a whole, not as the army, the navy, air force and strategic command
The Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group epitomises sea power projection. Credit: MOD Crown Copyright
// Main image: A notional hypersonic strike glide vehicle. Credit: Lockheed Martin