Date of Graduation

Spring 2024


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

John Rose


Emerging technology is having a substantial impact on strategic stability. This thesis will analyze the impact of developing hypersonic weapon systems globally on strategic stability. Hypersonic weapons are defined as weapons that travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). Hypersonic Strike Weapons (HSW) are hypersonic weapons capable of maneuvering at hypersonic speeds that makes them much more difficult to engage when traveling at such high speeds. They are a relatively new technology that is currently being pursued by multiple nations throughout the world.

The United States is currently the only country that has officially declared all hypersonic strike weapons will remain conventional, with adversary nations suggesting that they are arming hypersonic strike weapons with nuclear warheads. If other nations arm their hypersonic weapons with nuclear warheads, a decapitating strike becomes a serious threat that has to be considered when developing defensive strategies. This could lead to a decrease in strategic stability around the globe as more nations become fearful of others first strike capabilities. This could cause nations to have their nuclear response on a much shorter tether, bringing back situations that have not been seen since before the end of the cold war.

As hypersonic weapons become operational, national defense strategies will have to adapt to the emerging threats to nations around the globe. Without a proper response an increase in risk and a decrease in strategic stability could occur.

This thesis looks at what hypersonic weapons are, what nations are looking at developing them, what purpose they may hold in a nation’s strategic arsenal, what strategic instabilities are caused by the development and operationalization of hypersonic weapons and the rhetoric that follows along with them. The paper concludes with some thoughts on possible ways to limit the instabilities caused by hypersonic weapons and its impact on strategic stability and U.S. defense policy.


Hypersonic Strike Weapon, Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, Strategic Deterrence, Instability, Emerging Technology, Defense Strategies, First Strike

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Marc D. Johnson

Open Access