China views the field of hypersonic weapons — those that can maneuver at Mach 5 or more — not as a missile race but as an entirely new domain of warfare, Gillian Bussey, director of the Ministry of Defense’s Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, said Monday. defense. One consequence: the United States will have to rely on a wide array of layered defenses to protect military assets from a potential assault.
The Chinese “often use the terms near space and hypersonic interchangeably,” Bussey said. “Near space” refers to altitudes between 20 and 100 kilometers: higher than most airliners, lower than the heights reached by ICBMs. This suggests that they “approach hypersonics as a domain, like land and sea”.
While big breakthroughs like the one last July hypersonic test headlines, Bussey noted that China has for years experimented with different combinations of technologies to reach this altitude layer. “You can look at their papers,” she said. “They have lighting scramjet vehicles; they have glider vehicles with scramjets…vehicles with liquid rocket propulsion, solid rocket. There’s a whole host of propulsion systems they’re working on.
It is easy to group hypersonic missiles with nuclear weapons. The major nuclear-armed hypersonic missiles that the two countries are developing certainly fall into this category. But Mark Lewis, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies, is also concerned about smaller weapons.
“It’s really the tactical systems that worry me the most,” Lewis said at Monday’s event Imagine a swarm of hypersonic missiles that can sink an aircraft carrier; it really is an ability. And that leads us to ask the question: are we willing to risk an aircraft carrier, for example, in a potential scenario? »
Various U.S. military services are to chase hypersonic missiles; the Pentagon has requested a total of approximately $3.8 billion for the work in fiscal year 2022. The budget request for the hypersonic defense the technology was much lower: about $248 million through the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, plus about $7 million for a three-year-old DARPA program called Slip breaker. On top of that, the Space Development Agency is launching a constellation of satellites to track highly maneuverable hypersonic missiles. These would work to “indicate MDA’s hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor…to provide more accurate target quality data so you can actually develop a firing solution that would allow you to intercept this weapon,” Kelley said. Sayler, analyst for Advanced Technology and Global Security at the Congressional Research Service.
According to Bussey, “Despite the obvious threat, as a department we chose to focus on offense first because a good offense is the best defense and offense is much easier.”
But one CSIS report released at Monday’s event highlights the need for layered defenses. Probably the most important element is anti-hypersonic interceptor missiles, which will be much more difficult to create than offensive missiles intended to hit stationary or relatively slow targets.
Bussey said his office is reviewing new forms infrared detection technology and new radio frequency antennae to equip these interceptors. But these will require great scientific breakthroughs to develop materials that allow the particular spectral energy charges to reach the sensors inside the seeker while protecting that seeker from the high temperatures generated by flying through the air at five times the speed of sound.
You also need to “understand the sources of optical distortion to [infrared sensors] sensors such as ablation or erosion on [infrared] the Windows and what the hypersonic airfoil looks like above that window,” she said.
The United States is also investigating directed energy, such as lasers or microwave beams, to destroy hypersonic missiles. But the same monitoring and guidance challenges would affect them as well. The Department of Defense doesn’t expect these to come online until the 2030s — with a good chance they’ll come “much later than that,” Sayler noted.
The CSIS report also highlights the importance of “passive” defenses like decoys and “other forms of deception to confuse the terminal guidance systems of hypersonic weapons.”
Commanders must begin now to conceal key command nodes or valuable hypersonic missile assets.
“Critical air and missile defense nodes could also be concealed in mobile and containerized platforms, along with decoys, to complicate targeting,” the report said. “Operational procedures can also improve survivability. Additional investments in training for damage control and runway repair, coupled with the unpredictable rotation of forces between bases, could mitigate the destruction or disruption of forward deployed forces.
Lewis said the Department of Defense must understand that hypersonic weapons will not just be an aspect of the future battlefield, but its defining characteristic. “It can’t be an effort of a few years [where] we deploy a few systems and then move on. Because this is the future of warfare and we have to be in this race,” he said.