China Developing Hypersonic Swarms To Overwhelm Missile Defenses

March 19, 2021



Chinese researchers are working to network hypersonic weapons into a smart swarm for coordinated attacks. Such swarms would be far more dangerous than the individual missiles that comprise them, multiplying the power of the high-speed weapons.

Hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles that travel inside the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound (over 4,000 mph) are shaping up as the next wave of military innovation. While they may be slower than ballistic missiles, their comparatively low-level flight means there is much less warning of hypersonic missiles’ arrival, and they are far more challenging to intercept. They could deliver nuclear warheads, or deliver devastating surprise attacks against aircraft carriers or airbases. No wonder China is developing them to counter U.S. superiority in other areas, and the Pentagon is devoting so much effort to defense against such missiles.

A new study from the Beijing Institute of Technology titled ‘Network for hypersonic UCAV swarms’ seeks to multiply the power of hypersonic weapons by having them work together. UCAV is short for Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, a term usually employed for armed drones, but applied in this case because they are more than missiles – the members of the swarm will carry sensors and communications.

The benefits are a shared situational awareness, for example alerting other swarm members where defenses are located, being able to simultaneously hit targets with multiple weapons coming from different directions, and co-operatively searching for elusive or moving targets. A swarm could comprise several waves, with each one advising the next which targets have already been destroyed or where holes have been made through defenses.

Ultimately the swarm will make its own decisions about where to go and how to attack…


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