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A nation must think before it acts.
Recent news of hypersonic tests in both Russia and China stoke fears of a technological gap for the United States. However, a sober analysis of the state of hypersonic technology raises doubts of its capabilities, or usefulness in military operations. Instead, overassessment of hypersonics gives them their strategic value: political leverage. A nuclear-tipped hypersonic might not actually tilt the balance of deterrence at all but would nonetheless require a complex arms control negotiation between the United States, Russia, and China. A conventional hypersonic would have to overcome serious technical barriers to even match current precision weapon systems, but not fulling knowing the system’s capabilities means the United States must treat it as a credible threat. Without a careful measure of the technology, policymakers risk diplomatic missteps, budgetary waste, and an escalatory miscalculation.