What is Trump’s ‘super-duper’ missile?

Harry Lye 19 May 2020 (Last Updated May 19th, 2020 11:31)

Last Friday, at a White House ceremony unveiling the flag of the US Space Force, President Donald Trump said the US was working on a ‘super-duper’ missile that is 17 times faster than adversaries’ weapons.

What is Trump’s ‘super-duper’ missile?
US President Donald Trump made the remarks during an Oval Office Cermony unveiling the flag of the US Space Force. Image: White House.

The comment, referring to hypersonic missiles in development by the Department of Defence (DOD), is part of an array of “incredible military equipment at a level that nobody has ever seen before,” Trump said.

Trump added: “And you take the fastest missile we have right now — you’ve heard Russia has five times, and China is working on five or six times. We have one 17 times. And it’s just gotten the go-ahead.

“Seventeen times faster, if you can believe that, General. That’s something, right? Seventeen times faster than what we have right now. Fastest in the world by a factor of almost three.”

The President’s comments refer to hypersonic missiles which have become a focal point of investment in the US, China and Russia. Hypersonics have the potential to subvert traditional air defence by travelling too fast to be hit and are seen as a strategic disruptor by NATO.

Responding to a request for clarification on the comments, Department of Defence (DOD) spokesman US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert N. Carver told Army Technology: “We will not discuss capabilities of any systems we may or may not have under development. Hypersonics is a characteristic of flight defined generally as flight at speeds over Mach 5.

“Fielding hypersonic weapons is a top technical research and engineering priority, and the United States has a robust programme for the development of hypersonic weapon systems.”

In March this year, the US tested a hypersonic glide body bringing the US closer to achieving its aims of fielding hypersonic weapons by the mid-2020s.

Carver added: “DOD is pursuing conventional medium- and intermediate-range hypersonic strike weapons that defeat adversary anti-access/area-denial capabilities and hold high-value targets at risk. We are also developing a robust, layered defence to counter adversary hypersonic weapon capability.

“Our aim is to transition from development to operational systems at scale to provide the warfighter with transformational weapons in sufficient quantities to perform high-priority strike missions.”

Last October, during a parade marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), showcased the Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) hypersonic glide body which is expected to become operational at some point this year.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a missile travelling at the low-end of hypersonic speeds (Mach 5) could cover 1,000km in as little as 10 minutes and

2,500km in 25 minutes, while a missile travelling at the hypersonic high-end (Mach 10) could do the same distance in 5 minutes and 12 minutes respectively.

The speed of the weapons means defending countries or sites have less time to respond to the threat and intercept it. In its push for the systems, the US is looking into several systems including a hypersonic cruise missile proposed by the US Air Force that could be launched from fighter jets or strategic bombers like the B-25.

Outside of the USAF, the US Navy and Army are jointly working together on a common hypersonic glide vehicle that could be deployed on both ships and land. Once a common missile that can achieve hypersonic speeds is developed it will then be tailored to fit the needs of different deployments.

Hypersonic weapons have also seen significant investment in Russia. In the past, the country has tested several hypersonic weapons, including the ship-launched Tsirkon missile which the country’s media has reported is capable of travelling at speeds of up to Mach 9.