Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2. Image: DARPA/War Is Boring
In a near-future war, 1,000 missiles scream toward Russia at Mach 20. Each one a pinpoint strike hitting the Kremlin’s nuclear missiles, military radars, submarine bases—you name it.
Within minutes, 80 percent of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is destroyed without the United States launching a single nuclear weapon of its own. Russia’s military networks are blind, the nation’s ability to strike back eliminated or severely degraded.
The incoming missiles were no ordinary weapons, but hypersonic glide vehicles developed largely in secret under the US Prompt Global Strike program. They travel so fast, shooting them down is effectively impossible.
The capability, begun as a Pentagon project in the mid-2000s, was envisioned as allowing America to strike anywhere on the globe nearly instantaneously, without resorting to nukes. In this futuristic war, it succeeds wildly.
To be sure, Prompt Global Strike is real, but the scenario above is fiction. It will take many years, and billions upon billions of dollars, to make it possible. And that’s if the technology works.
That scenario is a real fear, however, in the minds of many Russian military officials. Russian military journals regularly feature articles presenting future American hypersonic weapons as an existential threat. Far more significantly, the Pentagon’s research—haphazard as it is—has provoked a radical restructuring of the Kremlin’s armed forces.
Since the early days of the Cold War, Russia—then the Soviet Union—and the United States dared not go to war because of the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides. It would be far too dangerous for the planet and human civilization to risk an atomic exchange.