To develop a good defense against these weapons, a system must monitor a much larger area to detect and intercept them, he adds. This probably means watching missiles from space using large constellations of satellites.
Europe’s early warning infrastructure could be sufficient to respond to a strike on the British mainland, Prince said.
“If you have the space, if something was heading our way in the UK, and you have all of Europe to detect it, then we could probably pull it out,” he adds.
But warships in the ocean will not have this advantage.
While Britain lags behind in developing these weapons, he says it has the ability to be a leader if it chooses.
“What we identified when we studied this is that the UK is as strong as anyone else in the world, if not a leader in terms of theoretical and computational hypersonic aerodynamics,” said Prince.
“Using computers to solve the relevant equations, we have world experts in this area, that’s not a problem. What we lack is sufficient experimental expertise.”
UK universities have a few wind tunnels suitable for studying hypersonic flow science, but not of the size needed for weapons development, which need to be considerably larger to allow complex-scale representative models to be tested, it adds. -he.
“A few years ago it became clear that Russia and China were actually working on these things while we weren’t,” Prince says. “The UK – but also the US – is behind, in many ways.”
The end of the Cold War brought severe cuts to the defense industry, and universities also suffered. This decline in spending continued into the 2010s and is only now reversing in academia where the science itself is crafted.
A lack of money has not yet been properly met on an industrial scale to allow independent product development and testing in the UK, adds Prince.
“We’re starting to rebuild that capacity very slowly,” he says.
“What we’ve lost is a larger-scale business where we’re actually developing real programs.
“This is a general problem throughout aerospace, but hypersonics is an area that is probably on the extreme end of this neglect.”
A change will probably soon be needed, or the British Navy risks becoming a sitting duck.