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Army Chief: Hypersonic Weapons 'Possible' But Early in Development

Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, listens to questions asked by the press at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting on Oct. 9, 2017. Spc. Bree-Ann Ramos-Clifton/Army
Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, listens to questions asked by the press at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting on Oct. 9, 2017. Spc. Bree-Ann Ramos-Clifton/Army

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Congress recently that he sees the Army fielding hypersonic weapons to counter similar, rapidly evolving threats from adversaries such as Russia, but conceded that such efforts are still in the early research phase.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's dramatic announcement earlier this month that his country has successfully launched the hypersonic Kinzhal (Dagger) missile from a MiG-31 interceptor has lawmakers concerned that the U.S. is already outmatched by high-speed weapons that travel at speeds of Mach 5 or above.

Putin boasted that the new missile has been deployed in the Southern Military District since Dec. 1.

"The concern that many of us has is about the frequency of hypersonic testing from Russia and China," Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, said during a March 15 House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee hearing on the Army's proposed fiscal 2019 budget.

Aderholt asked whether, provided sufficient resources, the Army could build upon the two previous successful hypersonic tests and ready an early operational land-based capability by 2022, as was directed in the current-year defense budget.

Milley acknowledged the seriousness of the threat, but said he couldn't commit to a "date of 2022," characterizing the effort as being in the science and technology, research and development phase.

"As you rightly point out, two significant adversaries, China and Russia, are moving out in the development of hypersonic weapons. We acknowledge that," Milley said. "We, the Army, have as our number one priority for modernization long-range precision fires; a subset of that is the hypersonic piece to it.

"I don't want to say 2022 because I haven't seen the results of the S&T and R&D yet, but I do believe that is technologically possible, and I believe we will be able to test and then acquire and procure long-range precision weapons that go significantly longer in range than any existing artillery system on the Earth today," he said.

Also Wednesday, Navy Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that China is also "heavily investing in the next wave of military technologies, including hypersonic missiles, advanced space and cyber capabilities, and artificial intelligence."

"If the U.S. does not keep pace, PaCom will struggle to compete with the People's Liberation Army on future battlefields," Harris said. "I believe China's development and research into hypersonic glide weapons is one of those technologies that they're working on that could threaten us significantly."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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