Impact and Non-Proliferation of Hypersonic Weapons Systems
Countries have begun pursuing technological advancements to develop novel long-range strike capabilities while attempting to render the defense systems futile in their attempt to stop the offensive. The previous few decades have witnessed limited attention to the issue of states developing new technologies for achieving the aforementioned objectives in the multilateral disarmament debate. The development of these novel capabilities could cause negative implications on arms control, security, and disarmament efforts on the global or regional stage. This Policy Analysis report covers the working of Hypersonic Weapons with relevant background on these systems. The report provides a window into the contribution of various global governments to the development and employment of weapons systems. It also lays down the challenges emanating from the proliferation of Hypersonic Weapons, specifically Hypersonic Boost-Glide Vehicles. Finally, the report includes policy responses and recommendations to control the proliferation of these systems and pave the way towards multilateral disarmament.
Numerous countries are pursuing novel long-range maneuverable strike capability technologies and weapons, specifically hypersonic boost-glide systems comprising ballistic missiles, while being equipped with hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs). One of the factors contributing to the destabilizing nature of the HGVs to the global security regime is the ease with which they render missile defense technologies ineffective. This occurs due to their hypersonic speeds, maneuverability capabilities, and depressed trajectories relative to standard ballistic missiles. Speeds exceeding Mach 5 are deemed to be hypersonic around the globe. HGVs, unlike conventional ballistic missiles, are unpowered after separation and don’t follow the ballistic flight path after the boost phase.
Currently, there are three nuclear-armed countries with active HGV acquisition and development programs - the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, and the Russian Federation. Each of these countries has conducted flight tests and is certain of developing complete and efficient operationality within the current decade. In addition to these countries, India, France, Japan, and Australia have undertaken some progress in the development or acquisition of HGV technology. While the United States has explicitly stated that it will utilise this boost-glide technology with kinetic and conventional warheads, Russia and China have remained mute on their usage of these capabilities and could deploy their boost-glide systems with nuclear warheads. This has given rise to a new arms race and countries seem to be motivated by their rivals in pursuing this technology and the arising conventional and nuclear capabilities from the same.
This new arms race could cause a destabilizing effect on not only the global security regime, but also the doctrines which have protected the world from a nuclear winter such as deterrence and mutually assured destruction. In addition to this, it could give rise to new strategic capabilities such as missile defense systems and space-related infrastructure which in turn creates massive problems for disarmament efforts and maintenance of international peace and security.
Critics of the current arms control mechanisms and instruments believe that they are insufficient in holding countries accountable to the proliferation and spread of these new capabilities, especially bilateral arrangements such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). Development of strategic capabilities like the Boost-Glide technology, which are excluded from these bilateral arms control regimes, threaten the perceived value of these arms-reduction treaties and mechanisms, as they could be rendered futile through a complete shift in military doctrines and technologies. The development of these capabilities empower the arguments of those who don’t believe in the utility of arms control in managing security challenges of countries.
Today, numerous international bodies and instruments deal with missile technology such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee, the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, the United Nations Security Council resolution 1540 (2004), the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the bilateral arms control arrangements discussed above. Experts believe that undertaking legally or politically binding arrangements multilaterally, bilaterally, or unilaterally under any one of these instruments would go a long way in securing arms control for these emerging technologies.
However, as the HGV technology remains to be adopted globally and is prevalent only in selected nations, a multilateral arms control arrangement is unlikely to materialise without significant diplomatic groundwork.
Given that only a handful of states have initiated and developed HGVs until this point, undertaking transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) over - widespread and unchecked development and deployment of HGVs, while partaking in a multilateral process aimed at resolving issues related to the development of this technology would be prudent. While developing and undertaking these multilateral processes it is important to consider the state and causation of currently deteriorating strategic arms control mechanisms around the world in an attempt to better develop these processes.
Seeking assistance from the United Nations Office for Disarmament and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research would help ensure outreach and awareness for the technology and current strategic arms control regimes. This would fuel international debate fruitfully towards establishing effective arms control and disarmament processes.
Hypersonic Boost-Glide Systems may be conventional or nuclear-armed and this ambiguity makes the threat emanating from these technologies more lethal.
The primary threat arises from the hypersonic speeds and maneuvering capabilities offered by these systems as they offer new and improved military capabilities. These capabilities could put at risk the assets crucial to the targeted country’s ability to use its nuclear forces. This could potentially change the deterrence calculus for nuclear-armed countries especially due to increased ambiguity in terms of crisis thresholds.
Hypersonic missiles create new challenges for global security. If a hypersonic missile proliferation results in its spread to the international market, the existing threat of ballistic and cruise missiles would worsen. For instance, hypersonic missiles, if used against countries that have limited strategic forces, could result in disarming the target’s forces before they can react to the threat of attack.
This prospect can prompt the targeted weaker nations with limited strategic forces to set up their missiles and warheads for “launch on warning”. This allows retaliatory attack before incoming missiles reach their targets—creating varied instability crises in the international environment. Due to the lack of strong defense against hypersonic missiles, relatively smaller hypersonic forces could pose serious threats against major powers’ forward-projected forces, or even deterrence-based threats against the homelands of major powers wielding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The global nuclear security regime is carefully balanced on the principles of deterrence, mutually assured destruction, and gradual strategic arms reduction. HGVs could potentially disturb the deterrence between nuclear-armed states for three important reasons. Firstly, the missile defense systems developed and deployed by countries around the world can be highly compromised on deploying Hypersonic Boost-Glide Systems.
Secondly, the current arms control instruments and mechanisms are out-of-date and not equipped to encompass advanced missile technologies such as Hypersonic Glide Vehicles. Already threatened international instruments such as the New START and INF Treaty are further endangered, for the development of this technology is not covered under either of the treaties.
The development of this technology could help bring the United States and Russia to the negotiating table, but given the current circumstances, the formulation of a new deal is improbable. In addition to this, lack of multilateral arms control regimes that are followed through dedicatedly adds to the complexity in controlling the development of this technology in countries other than the United States and Russia.
Thirdly, the withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 opened up the possibility of setting up multiple missile defense systems across the country and abroad unlike the ABM Treaty earlier, which only provided for the protection of two high-value targets in the country.
Initially, experts believed that this would cause a significant disturbance in the deterrence between both the countries. However, the disturbance did not amplify into something offensively risky until the development and deployment of Hypersonic Missiles which could capably destroy high-value targets protected by missile defense systems. This technology exponentially empowers decapitation strikes* against military targets and weakens second-strike* capabilities of countries. Thus, it disturbs the deterrence not just between the USA and Russia but also between regional powers such as India and Pakistan or Iran and Israel. The added ambiguity over the nuclear or conventional nature of the HGVs substantially decreases the threshold for tolerance and negotiation between both parties, and gives very little reaction time to the opponent.
Hypersonic Glide-Boost Systems could potentially be used for conventional warheads as well. States are currently pursuing two main technological avenues in the field of weapon technology: (i) ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRVs), and (ii) boost-glide systems comprising ballistic missiles equipped with hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs).
The scope of this analysis would be focused on Hypersonic Glide Vehicles due to their distinct features as compared to ballistic missiles. In addition to this, the depressed trajectories of HGVs are capable of accurately delivering conventional warheads that require accuracy unlike the Weapons of Mass Destruction which do not specifically work on accuracy as much as outright destruction.
The latest research into Glide Boost Technology began in the early 2000s, after it was given up in the late 1930s following the invention of planes and jets. The most recent development has been attributed to the advent of the US Conventional Prompt Global Strike concept (subsequently renamed as Conventional Prompt Strike). Currently, programs are being developed across the United States with multiple government and private programs running to develop efficient technology to sustain the technology, across the Russian Federation, China, India, Japan, and France.
While the development of this technology has picked up steam across militarising nations, the countermeasures for the same have been in development as well, especially in the United States of America where defects in these technologies are being investigated for the exploitation of these offensive missile technologies. The implications of these on regional peace and security are yet to be studied with relevant data and facts, but the possibility of regional powers such as India and Japan developing these capabilities, in the light of their deteriorating relations with China, could change geopolitical power dynamics in South-East Asia.
The threat of proliferation of HGVs just as nuclear weapons increases due to its dual-utility. HGVs can also be used for non-military purposes such as space launch, spacecraft retrieval, and civilian transport of passengers and cargo. However, once a nation acquires hypersonic technology, the usage of the same can change. The technology can be imported or exported, short-circuiting the slow route of indigenous development. The current situation, with hypersonic research openly widely disseminated among governments, industries, and universities, presents challenges for efforts towards the nonproliferation of this technology. However, the formidable technical barriers to mastering hypersonic technology are huge and require tremendous technological advancement across various fields such as thermal management and materials, air vehicle and flight control, and modeling, testing, and simulation. These open up the possibility of regulation and control through international cooperation and coordination, technologically and politically fueled by diplomacy.
Not even a decade has passed since the Cold War ended. Yet, the previous tensions have returned to haunt the present in a much more complex and dangerous environment. Geopolitically, armed conflicts have become more frequent, prolonged, and devastating for civilians. Civil wars, political instabilities, and smaller conflicts are interconnected with both regional and global rivalries today. They involve multiple actors such as violent extremists, terrorists, organized militias, and criminal elements, equipped with various types of weapons. Consensus-based disarmament processes have grown even more challenging in light of complicated governance structures in the international system.
In 2017, more than one-eighth of the world's gross product was spent on containing and solving various forms of violence; global military expenditures are now at the highest level since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Many of the agreements, conventions, treaties, and disarmament commitments agreed upon at the end of the Cold War have become futile in light of changing administrations and priorities around the world.
Disarmament, seen as a potent means of saving humanity by the elimination of destructive nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, is an important tool that would help prevent armed conflict and mitigate its impact. Steps towards disarmament are pursued for multiple reasons which include the maintenance of international peace and security, upholding the principles of humanity, protection of civilians, promotion of sustainable development, and prevention and termination of conflict. Just as the notion of security has evolved to place humans at the center, the objectives and language of disarmament need to evolve to take into consideration scientific and human development while contributing to human, national, and collective security in the 21st Century.
This has further been utilised as an opportunity to save more lives in conflicts by containing the use of explosive devices in populated areas and that of small and light weapons in prolonged conflicts around the globe. Along with security and physical protection of excessive and poorly maintained stockpiles, renewed cooperation at global and regional levels must be initiated through dialogue to reduce military spending and build confidence.
Disarmament continues to turn into a larger threat with further advances in science and military technology. While new and emerging technological developments revolutionise humans, the lack of understanding of these technologies in the military sphere threatens the survival of future generations. New weapon technologies pose significant challenges to the existing legal, humanitarian, and ethical norms of weapons regimes; non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; international stability; and peace and security. The international community needs to foster a culture of accountability and adherence to norms, rules, and principles for responsible behavior in cyberspace and outer space. Additionally, greater steps need to be taken to encourage responsible innovation by the industry sector, engineers, and scientists.
One of the most important reasons for immediate and efficient disarmament is the constantly deteriorating international security environment which is due to unrestrained arms competition, surreptitious interference in domestic political processes, and the increasing pursuit of malicious and hostile acts just below traditional thresholds for the use of force by countries and governments around the world. Multilateral disarmament negotiations such as the New START have been deadlocked and more have been called off and exploited for more than two decades now, and bilateral channels have been allowed to stagnate. Limits on major conventional forces have been left without further dialogue and diplomacy. Currently, no measures are in place to prevent rapid escalation resulting from strategic threats in new domains, including new weapons technology, cyberspace, and outer space.
While the methods and impacts of armed conflict are largely due to centuries-old technology such as bombs and bullets, novel weapon concepts are now rapidly emerging. Scientific and technological developments are creating new risks relating to old technology especially by lowering barriers to access and opening new potential domains for conflict. Accelerating the development of new weapon technologies is not completely detrimental for the international security environment. For example, greater precision and access to timely data can help mitigate the harmful impact and protect lives. However, many new weapon technologies raise concerns across multiple interrelated areas. Current developments have raised numerous questions about effective maintenance of international peace and security, the upholding of humanitarian principles, the protection of civilians, and the preservation of human, social, political, and economic rights. In certain cases, existing international normative, institutional and policy frameworks are sufficient, while in others, stronger cooperation, new approaches, and better understanding are required.
Missiles are objects which are forcibly propelled at a target while carrying conventional or nuclear explosives. These pose a variety of distinct concerns for international peace and security in the world. Armed ballistic missiles have conventionally become prevalent in the arsenals of many States and certain non-State actors and function as area bombardment weapons aimed generally at cities that NSAs are determined to destroy. Some states are developing advancing high-precision ballistic missiles and advanced high-paced and faster missiles, designed for use in a number of situations during conflicts.
Missiles, especially cruise missiles, are now widely available and further advances in technology are enabling the development of faster and stealthy systems. Certain types of missile defense systems can also function as anti-satellite weapons in addition to defending regions against offensive missiles.
For decades, strategic missiles have been a central concern in the nuclear disarmament process, and they have been the primary focus of most of the bilaterally agreed limitations and reductions throughout the Cold War and later. Recent developments have become stumbling blocks for further progress, including unresolved disputes over missile defenses, land-based cruise missiles, newly weaponised technological missiles, and most recently, hypersonic missile technology along with boost-glide weapons systems. The development of advanced long-range strike weapons, including maneuverable re-entry vehicles and hypersonic glide vehicles, have the potential to further complicate strategic relations, encourage arms competition, and endanger stability. Currently, there are no legally binding universal arrangements governing missiles as part of international security.
The current voluntary arrangements and codes of conduct, while being important, have not provided a comprehensive response to the security concerns raised by missiles.
Hypersonic Glide Vehicles are unpowered vehicles that “glide” to their target over the “top” of the atmosphere, reaching between about 40 km to 100 km in altitude.
Even in this rarefied atmosphere, they produce a lift that is equal to their weight to keep them aloft at hypersonic speeds. A typical operational concept of an HGV is launching it into the atmosphere using a ballistic missile and releasing it at the appropriate altitude, velocity, and flight path angle to enable the glide to its target. The initial release conditions are driven by the intended trajectory (downrange and crossrange) and the characteristics of the vehicle, e.g., lift and drag.
The numerous capabilities of hypersonic missiles give them both offensive and defensive advantages.
From an offensive perspective, maneuverability can provide HGVs the ability to use in-flight updates to attack a different target from what was originally planned (within the reach of the weapon system) as shown in Figure 1.3. With the ability to fly at unpredictable trajectories, these missiles hold extremely large areas at risk throughout their flights. Although HGVs are not usually powered, a small propulsion system providing additional velocity or some attitude or directional control could also be integrated into the vehicle.
The U.S. military uses an acronym to describe the decision-making and action process cycle: OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).
These four steps take time, and hypersonic missiles compress available response time to a point when lesser nations’ strategic forces might be disarmed before acting. As an illustration of the time required to act concerning an existential missile threat, the Nuclear Threat Initiative organization estimated a timeline for a U.S. response to a massive Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack, as follows:
0th minute—Russia launches missiles
1st minute—U.S. satellite detects missiles
2nd minute—U.S. radar detects missiles
3rd minute—North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assesses information (2 minutes max)
4th minute—NORAD alerts White House
5th minute—first detonations of submarine-launched ballistic missiles
7th minute—locate president and advisers, assemble them, brief them, get a decision (8 minutes max)
13th minute—a decision
15th minute—transmit orders to start the launch sequence
20th minute—launch officers receive, decode, and authenticate orders
23th minute—complete launch sequence (2 minutes max)
25th minute—Russian ICBM detonations.
This timeline is, of course, not representative of two hostile parties in closer proximity or with less effective warning systems than Russia and the United States. Nor is it representative of less-than-Armageddon possibilities. However, for adjacent nuclear adversaries that are within a 1,000-km range, travelling at ten times the speed of sound could cover that distance and reduce response times to about six minutes.
Hypersonic Glide Vehicles that utilise Boost-Glide Systems fall outside the scope of all existing multilateral and bilateral frameworks. This requires partnerships that are aimed at promoting dialogue and discussion amongst countries such that new frameworks can be developed to ensure the control and regulation of these new weapons. The study of these weapons is extremely important to ensure a robust framework is developed for the future while also ensuring a mechanism that allows governments to ensure the evolution of these new frameworks with changing and developing science and technology in the world.
After the United States, Russia, and China, the two governments furthest along in the development of hypersonic technology are France and India. While each state is pursuing indigenous capabilities, both have relied heavily on cooperation with Russia at various stages of development.
France is developing hypersonic cruise missile technology for use in an air-to-surface nuclear weapon delivery vehicle (currently called the ASN4G), but officials suggest that the weapon is still decades away. Other development programs rely upon cooperation with the Russian Federation. Recently, France planned flight tests of the LEA vehicle (the acronym stands for the Russian phrase for “flight-test vehicle”) to be launched using a Russian bomber used in Russia between 2014 and 2015, but it is unclear whether those tests occurred. The vehicle is being developed by French firms MBDA and ONERA and is still listed as an active program.
India is working jointly with Russia to develop the BrahMos II hypersonic cruise missile to be used at least in a conventional anti-ship role (see Figure 3.2). BrahMos II is often said to be an adaption of Russia’s Tsirkon hypersonic missile, just as the current Indian-Russian BrahMos I supersonic missile is an adaptation of Russia’s Oniks missile.
India had claimed that the BrahMos II would fly by the end of 2017, but predictions have frequently been revised. Since India had offered the BrahMos I for export, the question arises whether the BrahMos II will also be put on the market. Additionally, India is working on an indigenous hypersonic demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV) intending to create an HCM capable of speeds of up to Mach 7. In October 2020, India successfully test-fired the indigenously developed - Shaurya, a nuclear-capable Hypersonic Missile. This showcases tremendous scope for India to fully develop an effective Hypersonic Missile based arsenal.
Recently, that the Government of India privatised the space sector allowing the rapid emergence of space-based technology companies that could commit to commercial utilisation of Hypersonic technology, is leaving a gaping hole in controlling the proliferation of this technology from the country. Furthermore, this would give the private sector room to trade these technologies with other countries furthering the problem of proliferation.
Australia has a small group of world-class researchers of hypersonics based primarily at the University of Queensland. They have participated in a series of collaborations on scramjet technology with the United States and Europe. The Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program is a long-standing collaboration of Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory with participation from other Australian and U.S. entities, both government and private. The program is fairly advanced; in May 2016, researchers launched successful and affordable tests of scramjet prototypes at speeds of up to Mach 7.
In 2005, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released its mission statement for JAXA 2025, which details the agency’s goal to create a hypersonic commercial aircraft capable of cruising at Mach 5.
As part of this vision, Japan has invested itself in hypersonic research as a partner in the High-Speed Key Technologies for Future Air Transport Research and Innovation (Hikari) program, in partnership with the European Commission and the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The Hikari program directors aim to begin the experimentation for a future hypersonic vehicle by 2020. Indigenous efforts in Japan are currently focused on a Hypersonic Technology Experimental Aircraft (HyTEx)—a commercial vehicle capable of travelling at speeds of up to Mach 4.5. This program, however, is still in the early stages of development.
European Union has invested in three R&D programs on hypersonic technology: Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies (LAPCAT II), Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), and Aero-Thermodynamic Loads on Lightweight Advanced Structures (ATLLAS II). LAPCAT II is under creation to develop a civilian transport airplane capable of cruising at speeds of up to Mach 5 using a hybrid turbo-scramjet engine designed by British defense contractor, Reaction Engines.
Additionally, the European Space Agency has invested in an experimental suborbital vehicle designed to test atmospheric re-entry conditions from (hypersonic) orbital speeds and trajectories, called IXV. Complementary to these efforts, the ATLLAS II project also focuses on designs and develops lightweight, high-temperature materials.
Norway is home to the Andoya Test Center, which provides full-scale hypersonic testing to a host of countries around the world including the members of the European Union.
Hypersonic technology research has begun in Brazil, Canada, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan as well. The research in these countries is mostly academic or include proposals from entrepreneurs looking to explore the field of this technology. While many of these countries have programs that are developing supersonic weapons or modifying ballistic missile trajectories, no sustained state-sponsored R&D initiatives are under way at the moment.
Challenges with controlling the proliferation of hypersonic technology are similar to problems faced by other nonproliferation regimes such as nuclear, biological, chemical, and space weapons. The five principal challenges that need to be addressed as part of the international nonproliferation policy are:
the widespread and dispersed nature of hypersonic research,
the transparent publication of research related to the hypersonic technology,
intent and dual-use nature of the technology,
controlling the exports of indigenous programs, and
prevalence of commercial activities and international cooperation in technology development.
Dispersed and widespread Hypersonic research
Governments, industries, and universities around the globe are currently researching Hypersonic technology, and countries such as the United States, Israel, and Brazil are even testing this technology with their built-up capabilities. This field has seen widespread academic interest and historical research on hypersonic fluid dynamics has been prevalent with many major universities consisting of at least one faculty member who researches hypersonic flows. Therefore, the dissemination of these research findings and knowledge is a challenge for nonproliferation measures.
Open and transparent publication of research
Institutes such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Von Karmen Institute in Belgium have been extremely transparent and open with the publication of their research findings and have also gone on to build ties across the Pacific with the University of Xiamen in China. The Von Karmen Institute also serves as a testing and educational center for some of the pan-European hypersonic technology development programmes and other institutes have openly hosted lectures and research on hypersonic technology; the findings of the same are easily accessible and available on the internet today. This causes a massive problem for controlling proliferation across borders and amongst world countries.
Intent and Dual-use nature of technology
Hypersonic technology is largely a part of the scientific and civilian-based research where this technology would be able to reduce the civilian travel time and provide scientific breakthroughs which would push the technological development even further. Any nonproliferation policy for this technology will have to combat the claims that the technology will be only applied to civilian applications irrespective of how long it would take to make this technology economically feasible for the civilians. These dual-use claims generate distrust between states and this would make the nonproliferation of hypersonic technology even more difficult.
Controlling the export of hypersonic technology
Countries such as France and India have expressed their interest in exporting indigenous technology to other countries which would be interested in exporting this technology shortly as well. This leaves these countries as potential sources of future exports and convincing these countries of otherwise following the development of this technology would be a significant challenge to the nonproliferation measures of hypersonic technology.
Commercial activities and international cooperation
International cooperation in the development of Hypersonic technology has been prevalent and consistently rampant across the globe especially in commercial activities. These activities would result in easy diffusion of this information and technology for the development of hypersonic weapons. Furthermore, international cooperation would reduce the costs of future indigenous hypersonic developments and accelerate timelines while providing additional routes to export research and technologies to the world. Thus, the reduced timelines limit the chances of creating an international nonproliferation policy against hypersonic weapons, and open borders for the proliferation of this technology threaten any control over these technologies.
One of the most robust ways to address the issues raised by Hypersonic technology would be a multilateral international legally binding regime. An outright ban on technology is a rather utopian strategy to adopt in this situation especially when the international community has witnessed the partial success of the nuclear ban treaty negotiated in the UNGA. However, something on the lines of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that restricts the technology to those States already in possession could be possible in the current context.
A legally binding instrument requires verification mechanisms that make it effective and acceptable to a broad range of parties. Such measures may include continuous monitoring systems, facilities declarations, inspections, and regular data exchanges. Given the current deadlock in Conference on Disarmament, such an agreement could be pursued directly by the interested parties. Alternatively, a process under the auspices of the United Nations could proceed through a dedicated negotiating body, which could be created and mandated by the General Assembly, following the examples of the Arms Trade Treaty and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Considering the small number of countries controlling and having access to this type of technology, right now, a bilateral or plurilateral legally binding instrument specifically targeting the hypersonic weapons or through a broader bilateral or plurilateral legally binding agreement between the countries could be possible. Existing instruments such as the New START and the INF Treaty could be expanded by utilising the provisions in these instruments such as Article V(2) of New START which opens up the possibility of expanding these instruments to include hypersonic technology and boost-glide systems.
Test ban on Hypersonic missiles
Flight test ban is another legally binding measure and it would be a measure that is sufficient by itself or an interim step towards a more comprehensive prohibition of these weapons. Initiating a test ban on hypersonic missiles among the United States, Russia, China, and perhaps France and India could help contain the horizontal and vertical proliferation of this technology. However, these proposals for bans run up against the question of whether the United States, Russia, and China—now heavily invested in hypersonic developments—would give up the weapons.
Multilateral export controls are international measures that have already been in practice for a while and have been tested thoroughly with other regimes in the past. These require actions and commitment from the nations possessing the technology.
Hypersonic missile technology is exceedingly complex. For example, igniting a scramjet engine has been compared to lighting a match in a 5,000 km/hr wind making it extremely difficult for all nations to procure this technology. Because several regimes for technology export controls currently exist, there is a substantial body of experience to extend them to hypersonic missiles. Hypersonic boost-glide systems can be explicitly included in the hypersonic weapon technology under the current missile regime such as the Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement.
Transparency and Confidence-building measures
Transparency and Confidence-building measures help prepare the ground for eventual arms control measures, both legally and politically binding instruments. Multiple TCBMs could be utilised to ensure possible foundations for arm
s control are laid.
A feasible TCBM would be to formalise the exchange of information on flights, including test flights, of relevant systems. Countries that have subscribed to the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) to prevent the proliferation of missiles already use this mechanism to share flight notifications and States which aren’t part of the HCoC could enter into bilateral and plurilateral agreements while trying to push the States to be part of HCoC.
Establishing hotlines, like the ones that exist between the United States and Russia would help the countries communicate in times of crisis, establishing these would be especially beneficial against the ambiguities relating to HGV warheads and targets arising from increased speeds, shorter response time, changing trajectory, and continuous manoeuvrability. The threat from HGV technology lies in the offensive use and its application in times of conflict. Countries follow specific doctrines related to a calculated study of risks, and establishing a multilateral dialogue on risks and doctrines, strategies, and policies associated with these technologies could be an important confidence-building measure for the nonproliferation of this technology.
The United Nations Register on Conventional Arms includes and makes note of specifically categorised weapons and armaments and explicit inclusion of HGVs in the missile category of the register would actively contribute to the transparency measures. Expanding this register and making sure that frequent updating of the same is undertaken would ensure effective TCBMs.
Group of Governmental Experts
Establishing a group of governmental experts under the functioning bodies of the Conference on Disarmament to determine the solutions for the dual nature of this technology is imperative today. The group could be mandated by holding consultations with private entities and the governments to determine a classification mechanism similar to the schedules mechanism from Chemical Weapons Convention for Hypersonic Technology and more specifically - Hypersonic Boost-Glide technology.
The establishment of this group could also bring a renewed solution to the long-standing stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament on the subject of Hypersonic Weapons. Alternatively, the three major powers which currently control the Hypersonic Weapons in the world - Russia, the United States of America, and China - could make a trilateral effort to determine solutions to long-standing problems with controlling the proliferation of Hypersonic Technology. This effort should be made transparent to the international community such that other countries are motivated to be a part of the same and make positive strides towards building TCBMs and other measures.
The development of this new technology in the weapon sphere of the world has given rise to problems, revealing the existing deep cracks in global nuclear strategy infrastructure. Hypersonic Glide Vehicles threaten the nuclear deterrence in the world by disturbing the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine between the nuclear powers around the world. With an increasing number of countries procuring and developing these capabilities, the risk of proliferation has significantly gone up in recent times especially with volatile regions around the globe getting access to this technology and the access to the same just getting easier with the transparent and prevalent sharing of technologies.
Mitigating and controlling the proliferation of these technologies is extremely important today. Numerous measures ranging from legally binding to politically binding and feasible policies and solutions have been mentioned in the report and bringing it under control for the long term safety and security of the world. Transparency and confidence-building measures negotiated through multilateral or plurilateral diplomacy under the aegis of organisations such as the United Nations would be an appropriate step in the right direction at this point. Both Track I and Track II diplomacy could be utilised to build these measures and ensure transparency between nations with these capabilities. However, other problems such as the dual-utility of the technology would require further research and efforts on the diplomacy front.
Negotiating an arms control treaty to contain the proliferation of Hypersonic weapons across the globe is difficult at this moment, but eventually negotiations are unavoidable and should be undertaken by the world powers.
International cooperation through multilateral platforms such as the United Nations and plurilateral diplomacy efforts between countries where R&D on this technology is emerging fast and needs to be built on solid foundations of trust, established by transparency measures. Containing and mitigating the threat from the proliferation of these weapons is necessary at this point where only a handful of nations hold the capabilities and doing so could prevent larger problems such as the ineffectiveness of export control measures and open access of dangerous technology to Non-State Actors and authoritarian governments amongst multiple others which we witness in the nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons nonproliferation efforts today.
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