Home » News & Analysis » PACOM Harris: U.S. Needs to Develop Hypersonic Weapons, Criticizes ‘Self-Limiting’ Missile Treaties


PACOM Harris: U.S. Needs to Develop Hypersonic Weapons, Criticizes ‘Self-Limiting’ Missile Treaties

Admiral Harris, Commander USPACOM, visits Asia Pacific Center for Secuity Studies on Feb. 2, 2018. US PACOM Photo

The head of the U.S. Pacific Command said Wednesday that the United States is hampered in keeping pace with China’s ground-based missiles thanks to treaties it has signed to limit its stockpiles.

In particular, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia is “self-limiting,” Adm. Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee, particularly since “over 90 percent of China’s ground-based missiles would violate the treaty.”

The Cold War-era pact bans nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Both Moscow and Washington accuse the other of violating the treaty.

Harris did not advocate for the United States to pull out of the treaty, but his pointed comments will no doubt be noted both in Moscow and Beijing, as the Pentagon moves out on a new military buildup to counter the technological military advances being made by those two countries.

In particular, Harris expressed alarm over Chinese advances in hypersonic missiles, which could be fired and hit U.S. aircraft carriers and land bases in the Pacific almost before American radars could pick them up.

“We need to continue to pursue that in a most aggressive way,” and “develop our own hypersonic offensive weapons,” Harris said.

In photos leaked last month, it appears that the Chinese navy is preparing to test a ship-mounted hypersonic railgun, which would be capable of launching projectiles along electrically-charged rails. Testing done by the U.S. Navy has sown that such projectiles could reach speeds of up to 7,800 km an hour, with a range of up to 150 km.

Harris also took something of a contrarian view of the motivations of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, telling the panel that the mercurial leader isn’t building ballistic missiles and a nuclear capability merely to deter the United States, but “I do think that he is after reunification [of the Korean peninsula] under a single communist system.”

North Korea’s advances in its nuclear and ballistic capabilities are “rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability,” Harris warned. “The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of [North Korea’s] threats for years, and now the shadow looms over the American homeland.”

To counter those threats, the admiral advocated for putting ballistic missile interceptor silos on Hawaii, while discounting the effectiveness of the Aegis Ashore and THAAD systems in protecting Hawaii in the event of a North Korean ballistic missile attack.

Harris has been in the Navy for nearly four decades and has led the U.S. Pacific Command since May 2015. Last week, the Trump administration announced Harris’ nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Australia. The post requires Senate confirmation.

  • incredulous1

    Great comments Adm Harris. I still think you are far too valuable to serve as an Ambassador to AUS. We need your loyalty, patriotism, strategic thought and organizational skills as CNO. There are ways to defend against these hypersonic vehicles but it will take someone like you sir to make the reality in a timely enough manner to help defend the fleet and continue our power projection capability. I am not going to go into the methods or means to defeat these as all eyes can see this, but we don’t want a $20B 10 year effort to field the defense. More like 1-2 years and whatever money it takes.

    • ST-1 retired

      Ditto that CNO comment. The current CNO is nothing more than a p.c. water boy for the previous administration. In fact, we haven’t had a tough CNO since….since…..since……well perhaps as far back as Hollaway.

      • James Bowen

        Ever since Goldwater Nichols, the CNO and the other service chiefs are more clerical/ceremonial positions than anything else. They have no real operational control over the services which they are ostensibly in command of. The real operational control lies with the COCOMs, which are bureaucratic messes in their own right. I personally think a DoD reorganization that would eliminate most of the COCOMs, restore operational command to the service chiefs, and facilitate joint operations without making them the constant prevailing order as they are now (i.e. appoint joint commanders on an as needed/temporary basis) is long overdue.

  • James Bowen

    We also need supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. Our ASMs are a joke compared to what Russia and China have their ships, submarines, and naval aircraft armed with.

    • Centaurus

      NO ! We need hypersonic atomic rockets. Like the kind we had in the 50’s when the Mothra threat first appeared. That will take care of the threat.

      • MasterBlaster7

        I liked the big guns that shot those electricity bolts. I was crushed when I found out they didn’t exist. But yah, rule of thumb…our stuff is always better than their stuff…except we do need to pursue hyper-sonic weapons more vigorously.

    • Secundius

      We already have them! And HAVE had them since 1959 (i.e. the Standard Missile)…

      • James Bowen

        That’s a surface to air missile. It can be used to fire on ships, but it won’t do much damage to them.

        • Secundius

          The SM-1 was used as an Interim Anti-Shipping Missile in the 1970’s and an Air-Launched ASM in Vietnam. The Israeli also used AGM-78 Keres during the Yom-Kipper War off of M809A1 2-1/2-ton trucks…

          • rex

            Oh, so you will know. SM-1s ( RIM-66A/B Standard MR), were never used much as an ASM weapon in Vietnam. (that was their secondary role, aside from being used as a SAMs). Sure, they were loaded aboard some of the DLG’s and DDGs and CGs, but the Vietnamese did not have much of a navy to use them against. Their navy consisted mostly of torpedo boats, most being located up around Haiphong Harbor. The one SM-1 that I heard of, was used against a wooden armed junk. Hardly the thing to be wasting an expensive missile on, but the navy did anyway. I guess the navy needed a target for practice shooting at, to see if the missiles really worked. The SM-1s that were shot in the Vietnam war were against the Mig 17s and 21s.

            The AGM-78s replaced the AGM-45s because the 45s had too small of a warhead, limited range and a poor guidance system.

          • Secundius

            Really? Try F-4C Phantom “Wild Weasel” Flights in 1965…

          • rex

            Yes, but you were talking earlier about the SM-1 being used as an “interim anti-ship missile.” That is entirely different from the deployment as a “Air to Surface Missile ” (ASM), against the Vietnamese SAM sites, as what you are saying now. Also, you mentioned “1970s”. Wild weasel did indeed happen in 1965, but not in the “1970s”, as you previously mentioned..

          • Secundius

            I don’t recall Saying “Wild Weasels” in the 1970’s! I do recall saying Anti-Shipping Missiles in the 1970’s (i.e. PGM-84, USS Ashville)…

          • rex

            Sorry to say, and don’t wish to be critical, but you are really confused about what ship carried SM-1 missiles. PGM-84 never had SM-1 missiles on board to use as “anti-ship missiles”, or any other anti-ship missile for that matter. She would have been ill suited for the job anyway, because she never had the necessary radar suite to go along with it. She was strictly a shallow water gun boat, when she operated in Vietnam. Main armament on her was a 3″50 cal. gun. She left Vietnam for the last time in March of 1972.

          • Secundius

            As I recall, the “Ashville’s” weren’t exclusively used in Vietnam alone…

  • rex

    It is a little more than what Admiral Harris is stating. The U.S. pulled out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. So, the Self-Limiting Missile Treaties are not really the issue. The problem is, acquiring a well thought out and effective defense system. America has spent $40 billion on its ground-based BMD. But very expensive is not the same as very effective. The American military is a bit of a mindless spend thrift and doesn’t hold its contractors accountable.. Much of its money and efforts have gone down the drain, and none of the American systems can really protect against sophisticated offensive missiles. Yet, many of America’s achievements have been so hyped and exaggerated by the contractors and media, to fool the public and cover-up the obscene expenses and shortcomings.

    For instance, the Americans’ latest test of the sea-based Standard Missile 3 Block IIA ballistic missile interceptor failed on Jan. 31, 2018. Prior to that, it had also failed in June 2017. (Did USNI ever report either of these)? The missile is still in development, and will take time and far more money before it is operational. The previous naval SM-3 versions can only take on medium- and intermediate-range missiles; they are ineffective against strategic offensive weapons. The Standard Missile 3 Block IIA is supposed to possess some limited capability against ICBMs under certain conditions, but so far no tests have confirmed it.

    It’s also worth noting that the US has conducted all its trials in a benign environment. The targets had only one warhead. Their arrival was known in advance. No decoys or other missile-defense breaching systems were employed. But even under such conditions, only 50 % of the GMD tests conducted since 1999 have been successful. So, despite all the hype about Thaads, Aegis, and GMB/GBIs, the US ability to shoot down unsophisticated North Korean missiles is doubtful.

    The US abandoned the ABM Treaty to ensure that it could use nuclear weapons with impunity, making itself absolutely secure. But instead, America has spent enormous sums of money to make itself even less safe.

    • Secundius

      In January 2018, Raytheon was awarded a ~$89.7-Million USD contract to produce ~625 SM-6 Missiles for the Zumwalt class Destroyers. SM-3’s are to be replaced by SM-6’s…

      • rex

        Yes, I know about that too, but they are not in full production yet, and for only 3 Zumwalt destroyers? That is all of the Zumwalt class that will be built. The other problem is, although they are better tactical weapons than the SM3s, the real comparison of the SM-6s should be gauged against its ability to counter Chinese DF-17 (hypersonic), the DF-21D and DF-26, or the Russian Zircon missiles. The SM-6 has never been tested or simulated against them. Also, the SM-6s are still not designed for interception of strategic long range missiles either.

        • Secundius

          It’s NOT the matter of what the SM-6 was “Designed” for, but the matter of “Application” of the SM-6. The “SM” is a “Jack of All Trades” Missile Platform. And the US Navy has Slowly Come to Realize that fact…

          • rex

            Well, perhaps, but we will see in the next war. In the meanwhile, “Jack of All Trades” doesn’t equate to being good at all of them.

          • Secundius

            You take what you can get! Out of ALL Missile Systems produced since 1959, the “Standard” is one of the Lucky Few that hasn’t been Cancelled…

          • rex

            I think you are basing the “Standard Missile” on its legacy. Sure, its a good missile, but legacy alone doesn’t mean that it may be well suited against its newer competition today. And “take what you can get”? Really, its more of the matter,” its all we’ve got”! American missile technology has lagged behind for many years now, and Russia and China have exceeded us in many aspects of missile technology. So, we can only hope at this point that it will work, but like I said before, it has not been tested against its competition to really know. We are just relying on the contractor’s hyped-up sale brochures, that it will do the job. But, I have seen two of the SMs fail on launch too, like the last test missile I saw in December of 2006. Failed launches are always heart-stopping, because you don’t know if it will explode in the launch tube, or if it will be able to intercept a missile coming at you.

          • Secundius

            Ironically it “Wasn’t” even the First Missile considered. That Honor goes to the MGM-51 “Shillelagh” deployed on the PGH-1, Flagstaff. Which had to Close within 6,000-meters of it’s Target to be Effective…

          • rex

            The MGM-51 “Shillelagh” was an entirely different missile from the SMs. It was used mostly as an anti-tank missile, shot from the barrel of tanks. I am sure it would have been effective against small boats too, but I have never heard of the PGH-1 firing it at anyone.

          • Secundius

            I never said they were Good Missiles! Only that they were the First to be Considered, before the Standard…

  • Russ Neal

    Admiral Harris’ comments seem very intelligent. That we are allowing the Chinese to eclipse our missile capabilities based on some treaty with the Russians (which the Russians naturally are violating) is nuts. That North Korea is obsessed with unifying the whole of Korea under their rule is another obvious truth 90% of our leadership is unwilling to acknowledge.

    • Ceci Pipe

      Partially intelligent at best. The INF treaty doesn’t ban R&D, only stockpiling, so withdrawal is only to build up more nukes. Which I’d wager would help Russia more than the USA, at least in the short term.

      As for NK, Ukraine gave up nukes in return for guarantees of sovereign integrity from the USA, UK, and Russia, as well as both the PRC and France albeit to a lesser extent. Ukraine carried out their end of the bargain and in 2014 Russian forces moved in.

      It’s now 2018. Ukraine has been at war for four years, they’ve lost territory out past Donetsk, a Russian flag flies over Crimea with Russian leadership saying they’re never handing it back, and the actions by the other guarantors has been lukewarm at best. The UK is busy starting a feud with the EU, again, the PRC is more interested in taking Taiwan and Hong Kong, and permanently putting down independence movements in Tibet and in the north and so doesn’t want to give them the impression that former territories are forever free, American leadership thinks the Russians are just great, and France is wondering if it’s worth the economic hit when Germany is so much better off.

      The USA and Russia have been invading smaller countries for a while now, with excuses ranging from justifiable to megalomaniac empire building (that second part applies more to Russia as they tend to keep what they invade), but none of those countries specifically gave up nukes. Ukraine did. Now Ukraine is falling. The lesson here, to anyone watching, is get WMD’s and never give them up. Or build up a massive alliance, but WMD’s are cheaper and more reliable.

      Want to tell NK to give up nukes? It’s never going to happen with Russians in Ukraine. It probably wouldn’t happen even without that, but we’ll never know since no guarantor is interested in backing Ukraine at a level sufficient to hold off Russia. NK has a right to self defence and, until such time as Russians are ejected and territory returned to Ukraine, NK is only capable of pulling off that right with nukes.

      As a sidenote I’m not really sure why Republicans don’t like NK more, they’re the poster kids for the right to have obscenely lethal weaponry for possible future self defence against unknown assailants. After all, when seconds count, world police are only one sternly worded letter away.

  • AmPatriotSmith

    Yeah, I always wondered why we never developed hypersonic missiles like the Chinese and Russia have. The Senate Armed Services Committee needs to listen to Admiral Harris.

  • incredulous1

    We have actually developed hypersonic cruise missiles but decided not to field them. We have launched from F-18’s, but not sure how well they would do from canisters or silos. Probably a much bigger booster than AGM-109s or SM-3’s. If we decided to do this it wouldn’t take that long and I suspect it has been a matter of priorities. One thing to mention is that during the fastest phase, comm blackout takes place without midcourse corrections at over 5,000 mph just as the space shuttle does on re-entry [10-25,000] lose comm for a period. However, NASA has been working on antenna designs for decades that supposedly addresses this, but so too have the Chicoms and Russians recently.

  • J_kies

    Rather than catch phrases – what we need is the actuality of missiles that address the target set. Conventional stealthy cruise missiles with seekers can address the threat set. The technical challenges to put terminal seekers onto undeveloped (and inherently more trackable/engageable) hypersonic weapons isn’t a case of will. Ask for the capabilities needed for the command – don’t be proscriptive as to the engineering of the solution because that is the route to being a marketing spokesmodel.

    Sea launched cruise missiles do not impact the INF as that class was excluded.

  • b2

    As any of us oldsters could tell you that served during the Cold War, we carried nucs in the US Navy across the force, not just SSBNs. In a nutshell,l after Reagan “won the Cold War with strength” (research nuc cruise missiles on wiki..) all the good feelings and peace dividends when the Berlin Wall fell made us “self limit ourselves” across the board re strategic strength and a policy…All through the Clinton Administration and then the GWOT through the Obama administration nobody did anything because Islamic Terrorism and Global Warming were considered the immediate threats…The Pentagon is NOT a very good multi-tasker.. We went from being a global strategic power, to being capable of fighting two regional wars, to G-knows what today…In my lifetime the USA has gone from winning WW2 to strategic bastion for the world, to sole super power…and now we are poised to get pushed off the top rung if we let it happen… Harris can remember all this as a P-3 guy who carried nucs as a 03-04 and without be-laboring how we got here like I did, he recommends what we need to do to recapitalize our strategic strength..
    Remember, that SECDEF Mattis, God Bless him, is a Marine infantryman. Although he is well read in on strategic warfare, this is all new to him and also this entire generation who cut their teeth on GWOT to today. He and the President needs suggestions to succeed and Harry Harris is giving him some!