1 September 2015

Going too fast: Time to ban hypersonic missile tests?: A US response

Mark Gubrud

Mark Gubrud is a physicist and adjunct professor in the Peace, War and Defense curriculum at the University of North Carolina. He did his doctoral work...


The technology surrounding missiles that fly at five or more times the speed of sound is not mature, but several nations have tested hypersonic missiles. The envisioned military value of hypersonic delivery systems lies in their ability to strike quickly over long distances while evading early-warning radars and ballistic missile defenses—but some proponents of the technology also argue that hypersonics could replace nuclear weapons in some roles. Critics, meanwhile, see hypersonic missiles as destabilizing: They could be mistaken for ballistic missiles, could be used in attacks against nuclear and other strategic military assets, and could even be outfitted with nuclear warheads. Amid these concerns, calls have emerged to halt a developing hypersonic arms race by enacting a moratorium on hypersonic testing and eventually establishing a test ban treaty. Here, Mark Gubrud of the United States, Rajaram Nagappa of India (2015), and Tong Zhao of China (2015) debate how serious a threat hypersonic missiles pose to global security, and whether a test ban is the best way to moderate such a threat.