Hypersonic Weapons: A Threat to Stability

‘A particular urgency attaches to defence at this very moment, for the weapons are now being tested may determine America's ability to survive.'1

William Borden's words from 1946 that reflect his thoughts and concerns about the V2 would sit comfortably inside the pages of the latest US National Defence Strategy which also links technological advances as threats to prevailing security threats. Borden believed the V2 would quicken the tempo of war and magnify the advantage of the attacker over the defender.2Forty years earlier, in a fictional look into the future, H.G. Wells' ‘War in the Air'described how America's North Sea Fleet was attacked and destroyed in short order by German airships which bore down on a nation that was ‘unwarned and unprepared'.3Technology can be seductive, especially to those who believe in quick victories and winnable wars and the lure of hypersonic weapons may well prove to be irresistible to those who believe in and seek that particular ‘silver bullet'. This paper will argue that although there is a compelling technological case for suggesting that hypersonic weapons will affect the existing stability between states and alliances, they will fail to do. As seductive as it is, Freedman points out, technology's influence on warfare has invariably been shaped by the political context at the time.4We must also be mindful of man's ability to adapt and innovate when faced by any threat, be that asymmetric methods or using technology of their own. Hypersonic weapons are already taking their place on a noteworthy and lengthy list of weapons that promised to revolutionise warfare; it is a list that already includes Wells' airships and the V2.

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