Mikoyan MiG-31K fighter jet with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles flies over Moscow's Red Square. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

The United States is falling behind in the hypersonic arms race as China and Russia outpace the rest in developing "a maneuverable missile that could fly many times the speed of sound and strike anywhere in the world within an hour or two," the Washington Post writes on the cover of Sunday business, citing senior military officials.

Why it matters: The U.S. prides itself on being one of, if not, the strongest military in the world. And while the Pentagon has made this development a top priority, falling behind to obtain a major weapon of war in the future, is not an option to stay competitive.

The details of the weapon: The Post explains that "like conventional missiles, hypersonics move very fast, at least five times the speed of sound, or 1 to 5 miles per second. Because they move so quickly, hypersonic missiles can stay relatively low, avoiding detection. Unlike ballistic missiles, which follow a fixed and therefore predictable trajectory, hypersonic missiles can maneuver, making them difficult to defend against."

The latest: A $1 billion contract with Lockheed Martin was announced by the Air Force, "to design and build a hypersonic vehicle."

  • Boeing isn't letting up on the race as it announced plans to invest in a British company that specializes in "advanced propulsion systems that could power a hypersonic vehicle."

What they're saying: "The United States is not yet doing all that we need to do to respond to hypersonic missile threats," Michael Griffin, the new undersecretary for research and engineering, said in a recent speech. "I did not take this job to reach parity with adversaries. I want to make them worry about catching up with us again," per the Post.

  • Griffin said earlier this year that our direct competitors with two of the world's strongest militaries, Russia and China, have intense development programs that "are observably ahead of where our current state of practice is," arguing, "we’re playing catch-up ball."

The big picture: Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Post: "The real race is here if our adversaries develop and deploy hypersonic missiles before we have effective defenses against them."

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