WASHINGTON – The Missile Defense Agency has selected Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Missiles and Defense to design the Phase Glide Interceptor (GPI) for regional hypersonic missile defense, the agency said on November 19.
The agency awarded other transactional agreements for an “accelerated design” phase of the program, the statement said.
Interceptors are intended to counter a hypersonic weapon during its glide phase, a challenge because missiles can travel more than five times the speed of sound and can maneuver, making it difficult to predict the trajectory of a missile.
The interceptors will be designed to fit into the current US Navy Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyers. It will be fired from its standard vertical launch system and integrated with the modified Baseline 9 Aegis weapon system that detects, tracks, controls and engages hypersonic threats, the statement noted.
“We are delighted that these contractors are working with us to develop design concepts for the GPI,” Rear Admiral Tom Druggan, MDA’s Sea-based Weapon Systems program manager, said in the statement. “Several awards allow us to run a risk reduction phase to explore industry concepts and maximize the benefits of a competitive environment to demonstrate the most efficient and most effective phase-slip interceptor as soon as possible. reliable for regional hypersonic defense. “
The initial development phase “will focus on reducing technical risks, rapidly developing the technology, and demonstrating the ability to intercept a hypersonic threat,” according to a November 19 release from Raytheon.
“Raytheon Technologies’ systems are the cornerstone of today’s ballistic missile defenses. We are building on this knowledge to advance the missile defense system against future threats, ”Tay Fitzgerald, Raytheon’s vice president of strategic missile defense, said in the statement. “The speed, the ability to withstand extreme heat and the maneuverability of the GPI will make it the first missile designed to meet this advanced threat. “
All three companies have experience in developing hypersonic weapons.
Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are also competitively developing scramjet-powered hypersonic missiles under the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program managed by the Air Force and DARPA.
And Lockheed is the lead systems integrator for what will be the Navy’s conventional Prompt Strike offensive hypersonic missile and the military’s long-range hypersonic weapon. Northrop Grumman designed the engine for both weapons.
Lockheed is also developing the Air Force AGM-183A rapid response hypersonic weapon.
Northrop began pushing to develop hypersonic missile capability in 2019 when the Pentagon made hypersonic capability a priority and Lockheed Martin inaugurated a new facility in Alabama that same year to develop, test, and produce hypersonic weapons.
The Missile Defense Agency pressed the pause button in its efforts in the summer of 2020 to bring a defensive hypersonic weapon online. But MDA has taken steps this year to move forward and has received feedback from industry confirming that a phase slip interceptor is something that can be done “and we shouldn’t be afraid to go. do it, ”said Vice Admiral Jon Hill, director of MDA. Defense News earlier this year.
Just over a year ago, MDA had a different response on its direction with hypersonic defense, focusing on solutions being developed in the science and technology phase, Hill said.
But after taking a step back and assessing the US ballistic missile defense capability, the agency realized it already had the means to tackle hypersonic weapons using sea-based assets such as a Navy Carrier Strike Group with the ability to engage high-speed maneuver threats during the terminal phase of flight.
The Aegis spacecraft, which has ranged launch weapons, is able to see hypersonic weapons in the battlespace because, “remember, they’re not that high,” Hill said. “They are about 70 kilometers away.”
Future efforts already planned to come online are systems like the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS), a satellite that will be placed in low Earth orbit to spot hypersonic missiles in flight, and the SPY-6 radar will increase. still the ability to track hypersonic threats, Hill added.
The agency decided it would make more sense to focus on removing hypersonic weapons during the glide phase, where they are most vulnerable, Hill said.
MDA then assessed the current and possible capabilities and concepts to be able to detect, track and intercept a hypersonic weapon in this glide phase.
The agency also studied data from opponents’ systems. “Our adversaries are constantly stealing these things and we are collecting this data with the existing sensor architecture,” Hill said. “We were in the process of removing this data and we could run it in our models of high-fidelity systems. “
Taking this data, MDA asked, “What kind of material do we need on researchers? What sort of diversion capability do we need? Are we using a frag warhead or do we want to hit-to-kill in the glide phase because it’s a different battle? It’s a different environment, ”Hill said.
MDA has found it can use existing booster stacks and can focus on developing a front end for an interceptor, Hill said. What is missing now is the weapon, he noted.
Armed with the new strategy, the agency launched a canvassing industry asking for white papers on its IPM solutions in April.
As the MDA continues to reduce the risk of more refined capabilities coming online later, Hill said, “from a regional perspective, we can do more now.”
The agency will focus first on providing a capability to the Navy. “If that is successful,” said Hill, “we can move it to the ground battery to protect other things from that kind of hypersonic threat.”
Jen Judson is the Ground War Reporter for Defense News. She covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a journalist for Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club’s Best Analytical Reporting Award in 2014 and was named Best Young Defense Journalist by the Defense Media Awards in 2018.