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Can hypersonic missiles replace boots on the ground?

Jul 12, 2023


Hypersonic missiles travel more than five times the speed of sound, so they can hit a target hundreds of miles away in minutes. They’re hard to stop because they can change course to avoid detection and outmaneuver defensive countermeasures. So the question is, are they effective enough by themselves for a country like Russia to control a geographic territory without also having boots on the ground?

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan thinks not and highlights two major drawbacks of hypersonic missiles: their limited payload capacity and high cost.

Excerpted from Peter’s July 12 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

With weapon systems moving toward hypersonics, what’s the point of holding geographic positions anymore? Theoretically, this works… at the push of a button, you can deliver a precise payload across huge distances… but the Russians have shown us this isn’t quite reality.

As the Russians descended into demographic decay, plugging these geographic access points NOW was their only way to prevent a future invasion. Sure, hypersonics are an excellent deterrent, but they’re expensive, can’t carry that large of a payload, and defense systems like the Patriot have proven rather effective.

Oh, and the Russians can’t even make the semiconductors necessary for more advanced targeting and strikes… so unless their enemies never moved, they’re probably looking at a surplus of really expensive paperweights.

While missiles, artillery, rockets, and an air force are all part of a combined arms warfare system, there’s simply no substitute for ground forces. The Russians are finding that even Ukraine, a country they dwarf militarily and economically, can have a shot at the title if they have the numbers and the right equipment.

Hey everyone, Peter Zion here coming to you from near the Continental Divide the ski fields of Keystone, Colorado, they’re behind me. Today, we’re going to do another one of the ask Peter series specifically on hypersonics. And the question is, with weapon systems moving in the direction of hypersonics. What’s the point of holding geographic positions anymore? A little more context for that question. My position on the Russians is that this war was always going to happen, because the Russians fear that if they can’t control the geographic access points to the Eurasian steppe, where they are from, that the Germans, the French, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Americans, the Canadians, everyone will be able to invade them as their demographic decay becomes not just irreversible, we’re already at that point, but so horrible. You’re basically dealing with a country that is a giant retirement community, won’t hypersonics allow them to functionally plug the gaps without having to physically occupy the territory? And the short answer is sorry, but no hypersonics number one, they’re expensive. They’re considerably more expensive than, say, an intercontinental ballistic missile, especially if you want them to have a range. Second, because they’re going so fast, they need a lot of fuel, which means they’re not carrying a lot of ammo. And it’s a one shot, one kill. So if somebody’s coming at you with 500 tanks, and you only have 100, hypersonics. Well, you’re not much going to have much luck there. Third, air defense, what are the things we’ve seen in the Ukraine wars, the US Patriot system is perfectly capable of shooting down multiple hypersonic missiles in a very short period of time. I’m afraid that there’s still no substitute for ground forces. So while Air Force, and helicopters and missiles and artillery and rockets and armies are all part of a combined arms warfare system, the single most important one remains the army, because if you can’t actually hold the territory than anyone else can roll through if they have enough forces. And one of the things that the Russians are discovering is Ukraine, a country that they dwarf militarily, economically, and in terms of military reserves, if somebody can pump in the equipment, they can do just fine. If you have a country that you consider hostile on your horizon, or just over it, there is no substitute for the army. And there will not be anytime soon. But yeah, one more thing. Russia can’t make the microchips that are necessary for a Kindle to be able to target things independently. So it either is on target, or they have to use their Kindles and other hypersonic web platforms to do what they’ve been doing in the Ukraine where, which is to attack any fixed target landing trading, power plant, hospital, whatever it happens to be. Russia doesn’t have the technology and the capacity and the industrial base and the skilled labor force necessary to make semiconductors that can be used in light switches, what plus Gameboys, much less washing machines, much less cars, much less air airplanes, much less satellites, much less support the sort of AI that when required to self target. And just so we’re clear, the Chinese don’t have that capacity, either. The hypersonics and China use the same thing that the Russians are doing. They go after specific fixed targets, or they’re completely relied upon satellite reconnaissance to provide physical locations. If we get into an environment where the Chinese or the Russians, for that matter, cannot use satellites. And let’s remind ourselves here that the United States has more capacity for space warfare than the rest of the human race, buying these hypersonics really are just interesting paperweights that really can’t be used in any meaningful way except as the Russians are using them right now to attack fixed targets. Okay, that’s it for me for real bye bye.

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