Hypersonic missile threat is focus of space and missile defense symposium

How to deal with hypersonic glider weapons is posing a major challenge for defense officials tasked with ensuring the US is safe from missile attacks. The hypersonic threat came up in almost every speech at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

The vehicle’s flight altitude limits radar detection range and high speed shortens timelines from detection to impact. And the weapons are designed to be highly maneuverable in the air and highly precise on impact.

Hyper-glide vehicles have a different profile in the air than a ballistic missile, which most of the US defense capability is designed to detect. Haney said, the weapon “moves at a good clip” – most hyper-sonic weapons are anticipated to be clocked at Mach 5 or higher – and some of these vehicles can maneuver in unpredictable ways even at the end of its flight path to the intended target.

The US, Russia, China and India are in the lead all developing hypersonic weapons. Australia and other countries are also developing hypersonic weapons.

MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring sees the “ultimate” solution to this problem in space “in terms of persistent tracking and discrimination for missile defense”.

The US Army is looking at some improvements in its sensor and interceptor technologies.

The chart describes the flight test sequence of a Russian jet-powered hypersonic missile launched from a Tu-22 bomber and initially powered by a first stage derived from an “A84” missile.

After accelerating, the jet-powered missile flies for between 20 and 30 seconds at Mach 4 to Mach 8 over a distance of up to 25 miles before crashing. The missile send telemetry signals to an airborne receiver during the flight.

Thomas K. Scheber, a former Pentagon nuclear weapons policymaker and former Los Alamos National Laboratory official, said China, Russia, Pakistan, and India are developing advanced strike weapons.

One system being looked at by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to counter maneuvering high-speed missiles is an enhanced version of Lockheed’s THAAD, called THAAD-ER.

The current THAAD-ER system uses a two-stage interceptor with higher velocity that would be capable of catching up to and destroying hypersonic missiles.

Laser weapons also are being considered for use against hypersonic missiles. Lockheed is working on lasers that can hit hypersonic missiles shortly after launch and before they reach ultra-high speeds, Graham said.

The advanced missile threat is also driving demand in the Pentagon for laser guns, and Lockheed is working to develop a high powered laser deployed on a high-altitude, long-endurance drone aircraft. The laser would target missiles in the boost phase–shortly after launch.

“If you can do that, you can kill them long before they can do things during their trajectories to evade defenses,” Graham said. Using lasers against high-speed missiles poses challenging technical problems, he added.

However, Lockheed’s missile defense specialists believe the most effective solution to killing missiles in the boost phase is by using high-energy lasers.

Contracts for work on anti-missile lasers are expected to be announced by the Missile Defense Agency in coming months.

SOURCES- Defense News, US Army, Lockheed, Wikipedia, Aviation week