“And just weeks ago, for the first time since President Truman established the Air Force more than 70 years earlier, we created a brand-new branch of the United States Armed Forces. It’s called the Space Force. – President Donald Trump speaking in the State of the Union Address on February 4, 2020.
The U.S. Space Force will provide command and control of constellations of satellites for persistent global surveillance of earth and control of space. All missiles (ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic) flown through space and the earth’s atmosphere will be tracked, targeted, and processed by artificial intelligence to commanders and their effectors, as well to our partners and allies.
“Hypersonic weapons – in particular, hypersonic boost-glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles – are rapidly becoming a reality. China, Russia, the United States and several other countries are pursuing these weapons. Some may carry nuclear warheads. China, in particular, has sprinted ahead in the competition to exploit the near-space domain (20 to 60 kilometers in altitude) with a large number of recent flight tests and infrastructure improvements to become a world leader in some facets of hypersonic technology. The principal rationale for developing similar weapons in the United States is to hold Russian and Chinese mobile targets at risk and to improve the ability to penetrate advanced integrated air-defense systems. These weapons, especially when conventionally armed, could have a profound effect on strategic stability. So far, suggested approaches to avoiding their destabilizing effects do not appear promising.” – Dean Wilkening, a physicist at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in the paper ‘Hypersonic Weapons and Strategic Stability’ featured in the journal, ‘Survival: Global Politics and Strategy.’
Hypersonic boost-glide vehicles are launched on rockets or even modified ballistic missiles, while hypersonic cruise missiles are boosted to high speed with rockets and then have scramjet engines to maintain the high speeds at high altitudes. These hypersonic missiles may carry nuclear warheads and all can be launched from a variety of platforms across the domains of land, sea and air. These systems are an extremely expensive and complex capability that are designed to overmatch defenses, through their speed and ability to maneuver, and to strike rapidly upon the critical and most important assets of a nation. They are regional instruments of power projection and they are strategic instruments of great power projection.
“…even if these vehicles can be tracked, what targets are under attack will remain uncertain until late in the vehicles’ trajectory. This inability to arrive at accurate attack assessments for non-ballistic hypersonic vehicles – a major difference between ballistic and non-ballistic hypersonic weapons – makes it much more difficult to determine the intent of an attack.” – Dean Wilkening
Hypersonic missile threats are the new reality. China has conducted over ten tests of hypersonic missiles (DF-ZF, DF-17, and Starry Sky-2) and last year started deploying and even displayed the DF-17 in a military parade in October. China has copied a canceled U.S. hypersonic program called HyFly. Russia has conducted just under ten tests of hypersonic missiles (Tsirkon, Kinzhal, and Avangard) and has deployed the Kinzhal and Russia’s Defense Minister Shoigu recently announced the deployment of the Avangard. The United States has acknowledged the return to great power competition with China and Russia, and a key component of this competition centers around the new reality of hypersonic missiles.
Currently deployed missile defenses and countermeasures are challenged to stop hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. Maneuverable hypersonic missiles traveling five times the speed of sound, approximately a mile a second, presents new challenges since the speed shortens the detection and reaction times and the maneuverability complicates target determination and intercept options. This development has given China and Russia a dangerous silver bullet in potential flashpoints such as Eastern Europe and in the Pacific with aircraft carrier groups and Guam.
This requires us to look at hypersonic technology differently than how we have perceived previous missile technologies. This is a new threat, not a revision of an old one. We need more testing, more dedicated resources, and an honest look at current doctrine, in short, we need to fail fast and learn fast to be able to rise to the emerging threat of hypersonic technology and to defend the homeland and forward deployed troops from those that wish us harm.
“Currently, the United States relies on stealth, electronic attack, saturation and low-altitude penetration tactics to defeat such systems. While these means are effective, their utility may be eroding. Hypersonic weapons, by virtue of their high speed, high altitude and substantial maneuverability, stress air defenses in fundamentally different ways and represent an attractive option for penetrating defenses well into the future. High speeds compress the battlespace for defensive systems and challenge the performance of interceptors. Their high altitude keeps hypersonic weapons out of reach from most air-defense systems.” – Dean Wilkening
For the U.S. to get ahead of defeating the new hypersonic missile threat, there are four foundational components the U.S. can do today to enable winning.
The first is dispersed space-based sensor satellite constellation layers that are small, cheap to put up and replace, and that can provide birth-to-death tracking of ballistic and hypersonic missile threats. The Space Development Agency (SDA) is coordinating with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop, launch, test, and deploy space sensor discrimination capabilities for low-earth-orbit (LEO) and medium-earth-orbit (MEO).
The second capability is multi-domain command and control (C2) capability that will provide integration of all the services independent C2 systems – the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) – “The Big C2.” This will enable the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) birth-to-death tracking of hypersonic and ballistic missiles as they travel over several geographical areas and most importantly allow targeting options from the best deployed interceptors across the services enabling their C2 systems.
The third is to rapidly develop, test, and acquire cost efficient effectors to negate and defeat weapons that fly through space and fly in the upper atmosphere, to include hypersonic missiles being developed and deployed by Russia and China. MDA is being tasked for Hypersonic Missile Defense focusing on the hypersonic missile’s glide phase of flight, while the U.S. Navy Sea Based Terminal 4 and the U.S Army’s Lower Tier Future Missile are focused on the terminal defense of hypersonic missiles.
Finally, imposing cost, creating stability through changing the calculus of China and Russia by modifying U.S. deterrence regionally with offense-defense integration with the deployments of long distance strike missiles, hypersonic glide strike missiles and with defensive effectors on transporter erector launchers (TELs) that can overwhelm, overmatch, and under-cost the near peer’s defensive and offensive hypersonic missile capabilities to prevent follow on strikes in an extended crisis or conflict.
The military invincibility of mobility, massing, and Cold War tactics is being challenged. It is now becoming a great power competition of network vs network and constellation vs constellation.
A new reality is here.
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.