As Russia and China get closer to actually fielding nuclear-armed hypersonic ICBMs, the Pentagon has been hard at work on a pair of concepts designed to meet the threat.
In addition to developing its own hypersonic missiles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is also working on a game-changer of its own: ‘Counter-hypersonics.’
As reported by Warrior Maven, DARPA is working on an interceptor that can take on incoming hypersonic warheads traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5. As such, the secretive agency is soliciting proposals for a concept known as “Glide Breaker,” which seeks to “develop an enabling technology critical for an advanced interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic vehicles,” according to FedBizOpps.gov.
The concept is straightforward enough: Build a countermeasure fast enough and accurate enough to intercept boost-glide vehicles and engage them high into the atmosphere as they sit atop an ICBM.
One of the most advanced hypersonic vehicles thus far is Russia’s Avangard, which has been touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin as impossible to stop using current anti-missile technologies and systems.
The Avangard is hoisted into the atmosphere atop a gigantic RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, then glides to earth reaching a top speed of about Mach 20. But again, the U.S. and China are also developing this technology.
But wouldn’t it be advantageous to have both offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities? DARPA and the Pentagon think so.
In fact, for DARPA it’s a priority: The agency wants a test bed developed by 2020, indicating the maturity of existing enemy hypersonic programs and the urgency with which they are likely to be deployed.
The rush to develop a countermeasure is also being fueled by the fact that the U.S. cannot defend its capital ships — namely $13 billion aircraft carriers — and in-ground ICBM silos against conventionally-armed warheads traveling at Mach 15 or better.
This will be challenging as well. It’s hard enough to shoot down conventional missiles; it will be monumentally more difficult to shoot down warheads traveling at hypersonic speeds, experts note, especially if they are being evasive.
“The most obvious challenge is the maneuverability of HGVs, which makes it very difficult to maintain track on the vehicle and plan an intercept course using our current capabilities,” George Nacouzi, an engineer at the RAND Corp. think tank, told the National Interest.
“Flight altitude is also challenging for our current systems. The HGV may fly too high for many endo-atmospheric interceptors and too low to be detected and tracked early by long-range radars,” he added.