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​Advanced air defenses being fielded by potential adversaries can threaten America’s long-held military advantage of being able to strike any target anywhere in the world with conventional weapons. But hypersonic weapons, which are capable of prolonged flight at over five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, can penetrate even the best defenses and hold time-sensitive targets at risk from long range, retired​ Air Force Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke. Bedke, a former test pilot and aerospace research leader, presented the Mitchell Institute’s new study, which he co-authored, during an event Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Although long-range hypersonic flight presents intense technological challenges, the advantages it could provide are profound. And with other nations aggressively pursuing it, hypersonic technology is not just achievable but inevitable, Bedke said. The study predicts that the US could field an air-launched, medium-range hypersonic strike weapon by 2020 and a reusable strike/ISR aircraft by 2040. But to do that, Bedke said, it will require a disciplined, steadily funded research effort to master the many small technologies essential to prolonged hypersonic flight, new or upgraded test facilities, and a stable cadre of well-educated hypersonic professionals.