U.S. Declares Plans to Equip All Burke Class Destroyers With Mach 17 Hypersonic Missiles

The announcement was made during a visit to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, one of the world’s largest facilities for building warships, on October 21st. This follows moves by the Russian Navy to begin equipping its own warships with Zicron hypersonic cruise missiles in late 2019, which were more recently confirmed to have been integrated onto its most advanced surface combatant the Gorshkov Class frigate. The U.S. and many of its allies which field any type of destroyer are currently heavily reliant on Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile, an ageing Cold War era design which is currently overwhelmingly outmatched by new Russian and Chinese designs such as the Kalibr, P-800, YJ-18 and YJ-12 – not to mention the Zicron which is the most capable in the world today.

Zicron Hypersonic Glide Vehicle – model

Integrating a hypersonic anti-ship missile onto the Burke Class could revolutionise its anti ship capabilities and place it ahead of most competitors in terms of firepower. The fleet is expected to peak in size at over 70 warships, due largely to the failure of the Zumwalt Class destroyer program which has placed a much greater burden on the Burke program as the U.S.’s only combat capable destroyer class. This has only been exacerbated by the failure of the Littoral Class combat ship program, many of which will see a very early retirement, and the growing obsolescence of the Ticonderoga Class heavy cruisers, forcing the Navy to rely on the Burke as its only modern and fully viable surface combatant. Elaborating on the capabilities of the new missiles set to be integrated onto Burke Class ships,  O’Brien stated: “The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program will provide hypersonic missile capability to hold targets at risk from longer ranges… This capability will be deployed first on our newer Virginia Class submarines and the Zumwalt Class destroyers. Eventually, all three flights of the Arleigh Burke Class destroyers will field this capability.”

U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer

The Conventional Prompt Strike hypersonic missile, currently under development, pairs a ballistic missile-like booster with a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, with the former raising and accelerating the latter before detaching and allowing it to glide down to its target. The most prolific weapons system currently using this kind of mechanism is Russian Avangard Hypersonic glide vehicle, although this is a strategic weapon built to strike enemy cities rather than an anti-ship missile. The Pentagon has previously claimed that the glide vehicle will be able to reach a peak speed of up to Mach 17 and to “strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away.” This would make it considerably more capable than even the Russian Zicron, which can strike up to around 1000km away and at Mach 9 speeds. Equipping the entire American destroyer fleet with these missiles will be extremely costly, particularly if the missiles are relied on to form a large portion of the ships’ arsenals which also including a wide range of surface to air missiles. It is highly possible that the new missiles will be less costly than the SM-6 anti-ballistic missile currently beginning to be integrated onto Burke Class destroyers, which can reportedly exceed Mach 20 speeds and have considerably longer ranges than the Conventional Prompt Strike missile. A number of analysts have raised the possibility that, should the SM-6 be further modified to be able to strike enemy warships, it could reduce the need for the Conventional Prompt Strike missile by allowing one missile to do the job of both hypersonic ship hunting and ballistic missile defence.

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