Constellation of Satellites Could Help Defend Against Hypersonic Weapons: Pentagon
Matthew Greenwood posted on September 07, 2018 |

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. is already five to 10 years behind in the hypersonic weapons arms race.

Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin has stated concerns that the U.S. is lagging in developing an anti-missile system to defend against the hypersonic weapons being tested by China and Russia.

A hypersonic weapon is a missile that can travel in excess of Mach 5—about one mile per second. In contrast, commercial passenger jets fly slower than Mach 1 and modern fighter jets can travel at Mach 2 or Mach 3.

Hypersonic missiles could launch and reach its target in as little as six minutes. Some of these weapons are very maneuverable and can keep their target a secret until the last few seconds.

Russia releases video claiming to test its new hypersonic 'Kinzhal' missile.

Griffin’s proposed solution is a “proliferated space sensor layer, possibly based off commercial space developments.” He believes that the development of mega-constellations of satellites, currently being fueled by the boom in commercial space technologies, could help the military deploy such a sensor layer.

The Pentagon is studying options to build a space-based surveillance network that would eliminate the blind spots in the country’s existing defenses. The current missile defense system, designed to counter conventional ballistic missiles, would be ineffective against hypersonic weapons. “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” said Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A low-earth orbit constellation of sensor satellites would track and provide fire control capabilities to allow the military to intercept hypersonic weapons better than existing satellites which are in high orbit and cannot adequately track hypersonic weapons. “We have to get closer to see them and track them,” said Griffin.

Details about the system, such as how many satellites, in what orbits and at what altitudes, still need to be worked out. “We know this can be done,” said Griffin. “To me this is not a technology challenge, this is a policy decision.” 

The sensor system isn’t the only option the Pentagon is pursuing. Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $480-million contract to design and test a “rapid response” weapon that could travel at Mach 5 or higher. That came on top of an even bigger $928 million Air Force contract for a hypersonic “conventional strike” weapon.

As the development of hypersonic weapons continues, the U.S. will need to play catch-up with China and Russia—and it seems ready to rely on the commercial space sector to do so.

Read more about the development of hypersonic weapons at USAF Looks to Fast Track Hypersonic Weapon Design with New Contract.

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