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Guest: Robert (Sam) Wilson; Topics: We discussed Sam's paper, "The Hypersonic Missile Debate" along with hypersonic weapons, defense, policy making strategies plus additional hypersonic uses. See: https://aerospace.org/sites/default/files/2021-01/Wilson_HypersonicMissileDebate_20210112_1.pdf.
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Robert (Sam) Wilson of the Aerospace Corp Center For Space Policy and Strategy joined us for this 85 minute discussion regarding his January 2021 paper, "The Hypersonic Missile Debate." Our discussion started by having Sam introduce us to the hypersonic subject, the nature of the hypersonic problem regarding missiles from both the offensive and defensive perspective, plus we got an introduction to hypersonic realities and facts since there is much confusion in the press, the media and with other interested parties. Sam addressed the facts and the main players include the U.S., China, and Russia.
Hypersonic was generally defined as a being able to go at least five times the speed of sound. Our guest described the glide vehicle which he said was most advanced and the scramjet version which was largely an R&D vehicle. He said what made the glide vehicle so lethal and hard to defend against was the fact that it was maneuverable so it could avoid being attacked. Don't miss his elaborate discussion about this fact. He said both Russia and China claim to have active deployed glide hypersonic vehicles but there seemed to be some skepticism about it with less than finite confirming intelligence.
One thing Sam mentioned quite a bit during our program was the fact that there are already missiles deployed with hypersonic speeds, maneuverability and other similar characteristics. He described them, including ICBMs and other missiles. He said this fact contributed greatly to the strategic planning on what to do about the hypersonic missile threat. In terms of strategy, on Page 1 of Sam's paper, he has a summary page where he identified four major strategies being considered by the policy wonks:
1. Get Ahead.
2. Shields Up.
3. Draw the Line.
4. Avoid the Race.
Sam described each strategy in detail during our discussion plus listeners asked questions about each strategy. As an example note the questions later in the program regarding both Avoid the Race and Get Ahead. After listening to the strategy discussion, what position would you advocate in terms of dealing with the hypersonic missile threat? Post your comments about this on our blog for this show.
Other topics for our discussion included consideration of existing nuclear arsenals, capability, and the political will to use such weapons. Another topic considered was adopting aggressive positions which might cause the adversary to take even more aggressive positions. What do you think about this as a strategy? This suggests that if the U.S. were to take a hardline position or say threaten facilities on the Chinese mainland should the Chinese mount a hypersonic threat against our fleet or forces defending Taiwan, would the very fact that we threatened the mainland escalate a Chinese threat or even a Chinese response? Would we be better off limiting our response to a more local response instead of going after mainland Chinese infrastructure? Let's put you in charge of US policy. Tell us what your strategy would be?
The Space Shuttle was discussed as a type of hypersonic vehicle in the context that such vehicles were not really that new. However, later in the show when Sam was asked about point to point hypersonic travel, he did not know much about it or what was going on in that industry. While the Shuttle was not point to point travel, I think it could certainly be considered as a forerunner of that technology.
Sam got several questions about the assumptions made by the policy makers. I asked about the consequences of bad assumption making in that loss, destruction, death and more could result from bad assumption and decision making by those making the policy. Listen to how our guest responded to these questions. Do you think the policy folks, maybe even congress, would be held accountable for a fatal policy that they made and initiated?
Other questions dealt with the branches of the US military involved in hypersonic research, hypersonics and the new Space Force, plus Sam was asked for a time line for critical decision making. He suggested the next four years would be critical in terms of how we deal with the hypersonic threat. Before the program ended, Sam was asked about both North Korea and Iran and hypersonic proliferation. Sam mentioned hypersonic R&D in France, Japan, Australia and possibly other countries. He then suggested that we have about a ten year grace period to see if we can deal with the proliferation problem. Before ending, our guest offered us a summary of today's discussion and he told us he was working on a Cold War in the space domain article that might be ready in May of this year.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this show. If you want to reach Sam Wilson, you can do so through me or The Center For Space Policy And Strategy.