The US, Russia and China should agree not to export complete hypersonic missile systems or their major components to other countries, including India, where the technology is already under development, a top American think-tank has said. Hypersonic missiles — specifically hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles — are a new class of threat because they are capable both of manoeuvring and of flying faster than 5,000 kilometres per hour. These features enable such missiles to penetrate most missile defences and to further compress the timeliness for a response by a nation under attack. In a report, Rand Corporation – a top American defence think-tank – said that hypersonic missiles are being developed by the US, Russia and China. “Their proliferation beyond these three could result in other powers setting their strategic forces on hair-trigger states of readiness. And such proliferation could enable other powers to more credibly threaten attacks on major powers,” it said. The diffusion of hypersonic technology is under way in Europe, Japan, Australia and India — with other nations beginning to explore such technology, it said, adding that the proliferation could cross multiple borders if the technology is offered in world markets.
“To this end, the report recommends that (1) the United States, Russia, and China should agree not to export complete hypersonic missile systems or their major components and (2) the broader international community should establish controls on a wider range of hypersonic missile hardware and technology,” Rand said in its report. The report said after the US, Russia and China, two countries – France and India – have made the most progress in R&D in hypersonic missile technology. Their strides have been aided through cooperation with Russia, it said.
Australia, Japan and European Union are three others perusing such a programme. The report said Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) currently has two parallel programmes in hypersonic development, each making considerable strides toward being operational. Their collaborative research programme BrahMos II is a joint venture with Russia that expects to produce a hypersonic cruise missile by 2017, it said. The indigenous research project, the HSTDV, planned to conduct its first flight test in late 2016 or early 2017.
“Both the BrahMos II and the HSTDV will be used as missiles to carry warheads. Additionally, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is sponsoring R&D on an air- breathing reusable launch vehicle–technology demonstrator as a first step toward developing a two-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle,” it said. The US, Russia and China are key players in any discussion about the control of hypersonic technology capabilities, the report said. “No export controls against the spread of such capabilities can be effective unless at least these three nations support them,” it said.
If one of the three chose to freely export hypersonic weapons, the restraint of the other two would be undercut. Some would add France and India to this group and with France, its nonproliferation experience might give it an important role, the report said. According to the report, Pakistan currently does not appear to have a programme to develop a hypersonic cruise missile or research scram-jet technology. “While Pakistan has some indigenous capabilities regarding missile development, it also relies on Chinese exports for much of its short – and medium-range ballistic missile demands,” it said.