US upgrading anti-missile systems to counter hypersonic weapons from China, Russia and Others

Missile defense specialists at Lockheed Martin said that extended-range version of the Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system is being developed to deal with hypersonic threats.

Lockheed received a $78 million contract from the U.S. Army for upgrades to the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The program will take hardware from early-production ATACMS Block 1 missiles and develop an enhanced and affordable weapon system capable of eliminating targets without the risk of unexploded ordnance, which meets the U.S. Army’s long-range precision strike requirement. The program’s first phase will include flight tests, followed by production beginning in 2016.

Hypersonic missiles are maneuvering strike vehicles launched atop missiles that travel at speeds of up to Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound. They maneuver and glide along the edge of space, making them difficult targets for missile defenses.

Current U.S. missile defense sensors and interceptors are designed primarily to hit ballistic missile warheads that travel in predictable flight paths from launch, through space and into ground targets.

China surprised U.S. intelligence agencies last year by conducting three flight tests of the Wu-14 in January, August and December. The vehicle traveled at speeds up to Mach 10, or nearly 8,000 miles per hour.

US Intelligence agencies assessed that the Wu-14 would be able to break through current US defenses.

In addition to China, Russia and India are working on hypersonic strike vehicles and there is concern that hypersonic technology could proliferate to North Korea and Iran.

The extended-range version, with a larger booster and an enhanced upper stage, is being developed to deal with hypersonic threats, he added, noting that work has been underway for the past 12 to 18 months.

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