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With tensions between China and the US ratcheting up over Taiwan, and increasing Russian aggression in Ukraine threatening to drag NATO into a potential third world war, America has been warned it stands to lose a new hypersonic conflict.
As AI-controlled drone swarms and hypersonic missiles threaten to change the way that future wars are fought, experts warn that America is "lagging behind" in the 21st Century arms race.
The US Navy’s previously unconquerable carrier fleet would be a sitting duck for hypersonic missiles striking too fast to be even detected, let alone intercepted.
General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned the US Congress in 2018 that "we don’t have any defence that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us".
North Korea, too, has entered the hypersonic weapons race, and Kim Jong-un's military plans remain an unknown quantity.
Admiral James Stavridis, the former Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe, warned in a Washington Post editorial that America’s naval power would be meaningless in 10 years’ time.
"Autonomous technologies, such as low-cost swarms of air-and sea-based drones coupled with hypersonic missiles, could shift the balance of power on the oceans," he wrote.
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He says that expendable, low-cost drones could be manufactured and deployed against a conventional fleet, completely overwhelming its defences.
"Imagine a sky filled with aircraft, or an ocean filled with ships, on a scale we have not witnessed since World War II," he wrote.
"Now, imagine that those platforms are entirely unmanned."
Stavridis added that the Solar Winds cyber-attack, which crippled several US government computer systems as well as a number of major corporations, was a warning sign of a new type of warfare for which America is completely unprepared.
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According to the Daily Telegraph’s US expert Nick Allen, the opening salvo of the next major conflict will be fired through the Internet – a "cyber Pearl Harbor" that would wipe out much of America’s apparent military strength at a stroke, setting the scene for a "catastrophic defeat".
And in the second phase of the next world war, early warning systems developed during the Cold War would be powerless in the face of 21st Century weaponry.
In August a Chinese launch – described by the Pentagon as a"nuclear-capable hypersonic missile" and by Chinese media as a reusable space vehicle – orbited the globe and struck within 24 miles of its intended target.
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That new Chinese capability erased at a stroke America’s entire missile defence plan, which is focused on old-style ICBMs arcing over the North Pole.
The Chinese launch sets the stage for the use of a fractional orbital bombardment system or FOBS.
A weapon that briefly enters and then leaves orbit need not follow the conventional Arctic path and could instead be delivered via the South Pole – with little of its path covered by current early warning systems.
- World War 3
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