To defend an air attack is not about only stopping enemy aircraft. Defense and attack technologies are always in a competition. The new star of this competition is “Hypersonic Weapons” (HW). For an air defense setup, a defense family has to be set and the HWs are the new virus for defense systems.
Russia, China, and the USA are working hard on this subject. DARPA/USA works on two concepts: the Turbo Boost Glide and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapons. Russia is developing the Zircon, a ship-launched hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile. China has tested the DF-ZF (Wu-14), a hypersonic glide vehicle that could be launched by ballistic missiles of various sizes. We will see HWs in the 2020s.
Actually, HWs are weapon-sized air vehicles with warheads in hypersonic flight. By the HWs, defense systems which have subsonic or low-speed supersonic weapons will get ineffective. On the other hand, supersonic speed has disadvantages: low maneuver capability, targeting sensitivity and high altitude profile. HWs will be heavier, larger and more expensive than missiles in service. Cost is another case that has to be designated. The next step will be the Air Launched Hypersonic Weapons (ALHWs).
Furthermore, defense systems have to be modernized or new systems have to be developed. ALHWs will be used for more strategic targets and the cost of launch will be not cheap. And because of its dimensions, ALHWs will be launched by B-52 type bombers. Additionally, the range of ALHWs will be more than 1000 NM and prevent target before an ALHW launch will be not easy. In this way, a consolidated and backed up strategic target has to be protected by a developed or modernized SAM system.
However, attacking a target by HW will be no different from attacking by a ballistic missile. So, if it’s not a conventional war or a coalition operation to a low-profile country, HWs will be a deterrent effect weapon like ballistic or nuclear missiles. But hypersonic technology will be a new era for nuclear warhead missiles.