PARIS — Hypersonic weapons are likely still decades away from fielding, and the requisite research is best carried out collaboratively among Western nations, according to Kerstin Huber, executive officer for applied vehicle technology at NATO’s Science and Technology Organization.

“I would think it needs another 20 years,” Huber told Defense News on the sidelines of a round table discussion on the technology at the Eurosatory defense show in Paris.

Governments have generally been tight-lipped about hypersonic technology, which could provide an edge over adversaries, or lead to an arms race. Hypersonic missiles are typically defined as flying faster than five times the speed of sound while being maneuverable in atmospheric conditions, and their fundamental challenge is the extreme heat generated during flight.

“With this new type of technology, you will not be able to rush into things,” Huber said during the briefing. “It will take a number of nations, a number of scientists, industries to collaborate in order to tackle the challenges.”

NATO partners should consider working on hypersonic technology within the alliance framework, “because every single nation brings a certain puzzle piece to the bigger picture.” The U.S. has lots of outer space-related infrastructure that will be needed to develop the technology, Australia has the requisite space – geographically speaking – for testing and Europe is strong on materials science and numerical simulation, Huber said.

Shielding hypersonic missiles’ sensitive electronics, understanding how various materials behave and predicting aerodynamics at temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,649 degrees Celsius) will require extensive flight testing, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office said in a 2023 report, adding that test failures in recent years have delayed progress.

Hypersonic missiles could cost one-third more than ballistic missiles of the same range with maneuverable warheads, according to CBO analysts.

While Russia has been using something it calls hypersonic weapons, Huber questioned whether the country has really developed technology that meets the typical definition.

The number of actors who would be able to build such a capacity is “quite limited” due to the high level of technology required, according to Col. Christophe Cabaj, in charge of missile capacity architecture at France’s armaments agency, who participated in the round table.

The high speed at which hypersonic missiles travel and the heat generated as a result means they’re surrounded by ionized air, which makes communication, navigation, guidance and control “very difficult,” according to Huber. Development of new materials is helping protect sensors, she said.

Much of the information around solutions for hypersonics to deal with the high temperatures is classified, according to Lionel Mazenq, who helps develop advanced systems at pan-European missile maker MBDA. “This is well-known that ceramic materials are of key importance, as well as very high temperature alloys. Going into more details is difficult.”

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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