The Army is hoping to begin testing hypersonic missiles in fiscal year 2020 in a bid to catch up with China and Russia on developing the technology, according to the acting Army secretary.
“We have test shots in fiscal ’20. Can we take them? Can they hit something?” Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, when asked about upcoming benchmarks for the Army’s modernization efforts.
The Army is undergoing a major modernization effort focused on near-peer threats China and Russia.
Both China and Russia are ahead in developing hypersonic missiles, which travel at least five times the speed of sound and with great maneuverability, allowing them to better evade missile defense systems. The U.S. currently does not have a defense against them.
Army Secretary Mark Esper said in a recent interview with Fox News that the U.S. is “probably a matter of a couple of years” away from having a hypersonic weapon.
During a hearing last month, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) noted that the U.S. is not expected to actually field a hypersonic missile until the mid-2020s, but Russia is expected to field the hypersonic missile as early as next year.
“The Chinese are very close behind,” King said, according to the Washington Examiner. “We are woefully inadequate both in terms of developing this capability ourselves but more particularly in coping with it.”
McCarthy said if there was a war with either country, the U.S. would beat them but “at extraordinary cost.”
“The challenge is the trajectory of their investments and the energy behind the growth in their national security space, it’s breathtaking. It’s very focused,” he said.
Staying ahead of China and Russia “is the long-term pacing threat to the United States,” he said.
“We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel to ensure that we can still stay ahead of pace, and be best of breed, and be able to deal with that threat,” he said.
The Trump administration has shifted the Pentagon’s focus from counterterrorism to great power competition from China and Russia.
Notably, the Trump administration has stepped up U.S. military support to Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing considers part of its territory.
Last week, the administration announced the potential sale of F-16s to Taiwan, upsetting China.
McCarthy said the Army has a couple of Special Forces teams training in Taiwan “regularly” and with “great frequency,” as part of the Pacific Pathways exercise.
The Army is also working on an M2A2 Abrams tank sale with Taiwan, he said.
“So across a variety of different means, we’re working that partnership very strongly. I think I heard just the other day we’re announcing the potential pursuit an F-16 deal. So we’re working very hard with that partner, and the Army’s participation’s pretty robust,” he said.
The event can be viewed here.