Inside the Ring: Pentagon Studies Ways to Counter Hypersonic Missile Threat from China, Russia

Navy Phoenix missiles like this one may be used to acquire hypersonic flight test data. (NASA)


The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has launched a study of innovative ways to counter advanced missile threats such as ultra-high-speed maneuvering hypersonic missiles.

“MDA understands the emerging threat posed by hypersonic glide vehicle and maneuvering ballistic missile warheads and is evaluating programs and technologies to address this threat,” MDA spokesman Chris Johnson told Inside the Ring.

The agency recently released a request for information that will seek to identify weapon concepts for defense against future advanced threats such as hypersonics, he said. The responses are due Friday and will be used to develop an “analysis of alternatives” planned for 2017.

Hypersonic missiles are under rapid development in China and Russia as a way to penetrate advanced air and missile defenses such as those developed by the Army and Navy. A major problem for current U.S. missile defenses is that all were designed from the ground up to target missiles with predictable and unchanging trajectories.

China’s DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle has been tested at least seven times, and Russia’s Yu-71 hypersonic strike weapon also has been tested several times. The gliders are launched atop ballistic missiles and travel along the edge of the atmosphere at speeds from Mach 5 to Mach 10 — 3,800 to 7,600 miles per hour.

The maneuvering strike vehicles can defeat all current U.S. missile defenses, including ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska, sea-based Aegis anti-missile systems and the land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.

Congress has been pushing the Pentagon to deal with the threat. The most recent defense authorization bill signed into law in December requires the Pentagon to create a dedicated office for emerging hypersonic missile threats.

The MDA disclosed the advanced missile threat study in a brief federal notice published last month.

A recent study by a panel of Air Force experts warned last fall that the U.S. is falling behind in the hypersonic missile race.

“ThePeople’s Republic of Chinaand theRussian Federationare already flight-testing high-speed maneuvering weapons (HSMWs) that may endanger both forward-deployed U.S. forces and even the continental United States,” the study said. “These weapons appear to operate in regimes of speed and altitude, with maneuverability that could frustrate existing missile defense constructs and weapon capabilities.”

The study concluded that there was “no formal strategic operational concept or organizational sense of urgency” regarding the threat. It also faulted what it called the Pentagon’s “lack of leadership” in developing countermeasures and defense solutions.

Full article: Inside the Ring: Pentagon Studies Ways to Counter Hypersonic Missile Threat from China, Russia (The Washington Times)

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