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US in a hypersonic hustle to catch China, Russia

The US aims to arm its warships with hypersonic ship-killing missiles, a move that seeks to catch up with China and Russia while scrambling to land on an ideal naval launch platform for the weapons.

This month, The War Zone reported that the US Navy is advancing its maritime strike capabilities through the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (HALO) program, which aims to equip surface and subsurface fleets with air-launched hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.

The initiative, highlighted in a recent contracting announcement, is part of the Navy’s broader Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) Increment project. The War Zone report notes that, in March 2023, the US Navy awarded contracts to defense contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin for competing missile designs believed to be powered by advanced ramjet or scramjet engines.

The HALO program, set for a flight demonstration in fiscal year 2027, seeks to enhance the US Navy’s ability to tackle advanced naval threats in contested environments, particularly in the Pacific, against China.

The HALO program also promises acquisition and sustainment benefits through economies of scale and common supply chains for air, surface and subsurface launch platforms, the War Zone report says.

The US Navy aims to field air-launched HALO missiles by 2029, with a potential expansion to surface- and subsurface-launched configurations. This development reflects the Navy’s response to similar advancements by near-peer rivals China and Russia.

It also aligns with the US military’s broader interest in hypersonic technology, as seen in the Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM). Still, the US may face a hypersonic firepower gap vis-à-vis China and Russia, both