Viktor Litovkin, senior editor of the Independent Military Observer magazine, notes that work in hypersonic weapons did not begin from scratch.
"There were very successful projects in the former Soviet Union. Yet, it should be understood that time has been lost. Those projects were suspended and shelved at design stage as there was no money to implement them, nor was there any need at the time. But then it became obvious that the West continued to develop hypersonic weapons and that they might be used against us under some circumstances. Therefore, we must create similar weapons of our own based on our previous projects. Still, more than two decades have passed. Today, we have new materials, new electronic devices and new laws of weapon creation."
Hypersonic missiles can travel at a speed surpassing that of sound (1,200 km/h) by ten or more times and are capable of penetrating any missile defense, says Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy head of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow.
"It’s an attack weapon, not an antiaircraft or anti-missile one. Its chief advantage is its velocity. If this weapon is made, its warheads will be impossible to detect. But thanks to its supersonic speed, this weapon possesses such kinetic energy that it may, in principle, carry no nuclear or conventional warheads but hit targets using its striking power."
The United States has its own hypersonic weapon development program and is hoping to build a multi-functional missile by 2015 or 2018. Russia will not try to overtake the United States by creating a similar missile by 2015 or 2016, says Viktor Litovkin.
"Whether the U.S. will or will not have combat-ready hypersonic weapons or, more specifically, a weapon complex by 2015 remains to be seen. The problem is that individual components of these weapons are of no combat use. For example, a plane is less capable without such a missile than with it. And a missile without a delivery vehicle has no potential unless it can be launched from a long-distance bomber or submarine. A whole complex is needed – not just delivery vehicles, but also a control system, target pointing and a lot more."
Making hypersonic weapons is a tough challenge for Russia. But with a purpose-oriented program setting clear-cut priorities in a number of fields, it will be much easier to tackle.