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DoD Official: U.S. Needs to Develop New Counters to Future Hypersonic Missiles

Russian Zircon Missile Concept

Existing radars don’t provide the almost-split-second warning needed to keep Guam, carrier strike groups in the Pacific and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa from being held hostage to a future hypersonic attack, the Pentagon’s chief technology officer said this week.

Protecting ships and bases from the hypersonic missile threat is key to the future of U.S. missile defense, Michael Griffin, the under secretary for research and engineering, said while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“We can see it and find it,” but “we really need to be closer to the action” to defend against a weapons technology that China, particularly, and Russia are investing in heavily.

Hypersonic weapons’ low signature in flight and high degree of maneuverability upon final approach to targets make the weapons difficult to defend against, Griffin said. He added that missile defense’s goal is to be “persistent, timely, global” in addressing existing and emerging threats.

To meet that wide-ranging challenge, “I see value [in having] one agency” with its own acquisition authorities to concentrate focus on missile defense, rather than have the services develop their own systems.

“I would like the Missile Defense Agency to set that pace” of speeding development to fielding systems to counter what Beijing and Moscow are now demonstrating in the hypersonic realm.

Griffin said he expected future budgets to provide funds for lasers that the agency can more rapidly develop and field. For example, to field space-control weapons, “we need to be in the megawatt class” of lasers. He added, “we also need to be able to get after the threat we see today” against the United States’ space-based sensors integral to warfighting.

One way to disaggregate the threat would be to have a constellation of satellites in space to reduce vulnerability. “I want us already to be working on it.” But he didn’t want to put a timetable on that aspect of defense. “We’ll get it as soon as we can get it,” implying the need for budgetary support as well as quicker technological development.

Similarly, Griffin acknowledged the vulnerability of land-based and sea-based radars to attack. From separating the illuminators from the site to other possibilities, “we are re-looking all of that” to improve survivability.

When asked what the next missile defense age encompasses, Griffin cited unmanned aerial, ground and undersea vehicles and swarming attack as immediate threats. Further out, “we need to learn how to defend and perpetrate directed energy and high-powered microwave [for] an electronic kill.”

Griffin said earlier in his talk that “we have a lot of ground to make up … in modernizing our offensive and defensive force structure” in missile defense. Griffin added the “last time we really invested in transformative capabilities that overwhelmed adversaries [in Desert Storm] was the Reagan era. … It’s time for us to get back to work.”

Missile defense readiness will “cause our adversaries to think twice, we hope” before attacking and create confusion as to how the United States might respond.

  • ron_snyder

    Does any country have an effective defense against Hypersonic weapons?

    • RunningBear

      ICBMs are hypersonic, for which we have MDA.

      We could ask the European Army what defense they are developing; they are smarter than us, just ask them?

      Was this article a pitch for the USAF to by Standard Missiles?

      IMHO

      Fly Navy

      🙂

      PS: anything that flies hypersonic (regardless of speed or altitude (in air) ) will be somewhat “HOT” and detectable/ trackable in that olden IR spectrum, in this modern age of sensor merge!

      • Duane

        These hypersonic missiles are supposed to be highly maneuverable, but any vehicle operating at hypersonic speeds is not going to be very maneuverable relative to slower moving aerial vehicles. Also, hypersonics means flying high as well as fast – no terrain-skimming cruise missiles at hypersonic speeds. Basic aeronautics.

        We can obviously detect these things with some combination of radar and electro-optical sensors, the bigger trick is to effectively intercept them, but we’ve been hitting bullets with bullets for quite awhile now in our BM defense programs. BMs travel at far higher speeds than hypersonic – with the longer range missiles traveling at speeds between Mach 10 and Mach 24, yet we’re able to intercept those today with existing sensors and interceptors.

        • vetww2

          Duane, I am getting nervous, since your post is just my take..
          I posted that years ago.
          At Cornell Aero Lab, in the ’50’s, I had a Mach 10 shock tunnel. The conclusions from over 100 shots were:
          1. if used as an ICBM or an IRBM., a counter Shotgun warhead missile would work. It only takes a small hit, like DU pellet, whigh is easy to place in its path, to destroy one. A current alternative would be some type of particle or laser weapon.
          2. If used as an anti-ship, low trajectory weapon, a wall of water, created by a line charge, like the available M3 Mnefield Demolition Skid. would knock it out.
          3. If it were something outright stupid like an unguided railgun non explosve slug, forget it. It would be, almost useless.

        • RDF

          The “B” stands for ballistic. Not the issue here. Some of the seeker and fuzing train hw may be applicable because of common high speed final intercept. Maneuverable target changes the level of difficulty an order of magnitude.

          • vetww2

            Concur, but with ballistic missiles, maneuver is both difficult and target compromising. This is true only on the rising section. Once at apogee. the multi-section warhead becomes an slmost impossible set of targets.

    • Centaurus

      Pharton probably has a good theory to sell. Just to aggravate all you folks.

    • RDF

      Yes. Atlantis.

      • ron_snyder

        Do they use Aquaman?

        • RDF

          Aquaman runs the Longdhoreman local in Atlantis.

  • DaSaint

    Until we can develop ‘shields’ as conceived of in Star Trek, it seems as if Supersonic defensive missiles are obviously a short-term answer, if they are reliably accurate, but lasers hold the long-term answer. The speed of a notional hypersonic anti-ship missile launched at short range, and the short reaction time is the challenge.

    • RunningBear

      Hypersonic Mach 3/5 – 2,301/3,836 mph – or at 500mi range – 13/7.8 min to track. In this era of (F-35 sensors merged) IR detection and tracking merged to radar provides guidance for intercepts. SR-71 at Mach 3 airframe temp was 600-900 degF or quite detectable with EOTS/DAS, and Mach 5 would be a bit hotter.

      In the fleet the Raytheon SM-6 “..operational modes include semi-active homing, active homing ..for target engagement, and ..the advanced signal processing and guidance control capabilities of the AMRAAM® air-to-air missile. “SM-6, which uses a fragmenting explosion near its target as the kill mechanism”. “engaged a ballistic missile target in its terminal phase”, ”
      450 missiles to date”.

      We are not exactly defenseless with, satellite tracking and alarming, advanced sensor tracking and guidance and at least “one” defensive weapon. But….”More is better”; more sensors, more weapons and more tactics for defense beyond the fleet. Hopefully more to come!
      IMHO
      Fly Navy
      🙂

      • Hugh

        Swarm attacks and leakers……..

        • RunningBear

          Swarm may be a cool idea if you are attempting to defend your national waters, but to attack in a swarm is a declaration of war. Stomping out a swarming facility is simply defining the ROE and “paying back” the fools who wish to meet many virgins. I would be tempted to take out their leadership??, as well; while in the area!

          It takes an immense amount of energy to accelerate to Mach 5+/ Hypersonic. These are not bottle rockets and by virtue of their size/ expense, the swarming attack is going to be a formidable/ noticeable effort. Hypersonic swarming usually means attacking a large target (ie. a capital ship) that should be accompanied by a reasonable ISR drone activity to detect the marshaling of said Hypersonics for swarming. Ignorantly strolling into a swarm of Hypersonics may not be wise!

          Leakers??, singlets are always possible as a “missed” intercept, and CIWS must “Stand Up” and make it’s play. Otherwise, you “take” the hit and respond with “DC/ damage control”, if need be.
          IMHO
          Fly Navy
          🙂

          • RDF

            Well you dont need a warhead at that size and speed. Thats for sure. The whole reason for hypersonic is to be improable to intercept. Swarm is for slower human in the loop things. May volley 2 hypers at each blip. That ought to do it.

      • RDF

        Just the increased speed alone of the target changes the necessary seeker detection pattern, and the fuze train timing and frag patternso much it will require rework and development. So fast they have a plasma wave that protects from some energy weapons. Its a very difficult issue. Non-ballistic makes it very difficult without some sort of tracking energy weapon we aint got yet.

    • Centaurus

      Pharton sells “shields” on the black market, right next to the Romulan Ale that he cooks up next to his Meth Lab. Someone really needs to drop a dime at NCIS on that guy.

    • Curtis Conway

      Now you are re-quoting mine (and others) lines.

      • Layered Laser Defense – the time is now.

        • Curtis Conway

          The 4-Laser design for my Uber Aegis Guided Missile Frigate (Small Surface Combatant) with mostly a Passive Photonic-centric Combat System is the real answer. The design is in my ‘About’ section of the “US Navy Uber Frigate” Facebook page. Dual engagements, and in some cases triple engagement capability, can put more energy on target.

        • Curtis Conway

          Electrical power generation, distribution, storage, and control will be the issue. The FFG(X) is going to be Key, and simply must be the go-to platform for Lo end Surface Combatant construction in numbers (50 units+). A more Passive-centric combat system will serve them well at the beginning of the engagement, and after the atmosphere is ionized and many of the Active combat system elements are toast or won’t function.

        • Secundius

          A “Laser” may not work on a Hypersonic Missile on the Terminal Phase of its Trajectory. Speed of Missile would “Ionize” the Surround Air creating a Shield around the missile. When the Space Shuttle was on its terminal phase of trajectory, the was a EDL or “Blackout” where all Electromagnet Communications was lost. Until Shuttle bleed off enough speed to regain communications link. IF ionizing air can Block a Communications Signal, it might have the same effect on a Laser…

          • I always suspected that the plasma that surrounds this type of vehicle would block GNSS signals, thus necessitating inertial guidance. I never could figure out how that Russian supercavitating torpedo could find a target either from inside of a bubble. At this point however we’re talking terminal defense, so concussion comes into play. Considering the reentry breakup of the Space Shuttle, a little damage will go a long way.

          • Secundius

            “Kamikaze Physics”, Put a WALL between you can the Missile Threat…

          • Curtis Conway

            Another reason to not focus on Photonic solutions in the EM Spectrum.

          • Secundius

            Tungsten Carbide projectile would probably work, but considering the Ionizing Air’s blocking Radar Tracking. It would probably have to be a Heat Seeker or Optically Guided…

          • Curtis Conway

            Passive-centric detection, tracking, and fire control systems are required for this task. The sooner we develop them and employ them on all our vessels, the better off we will be. Passive is the name of the game. The systems should be compact, readily backfit and interface with current systems (use same protocols). The information is still displayed on the consoles, and communicated through networks the same way. Point to point photonic communication should become more prevalent. That network should be joined automatically, in-port or at sea, and is always in effect. If one is line-of-sight with any element in the system, then one enjoys the data provided by it. Filtering and mission set support is the key here.

          • Secundius

            I suspect the Technology already exists, but not in a Tactical System. They (NASA) had to have some kind of Tracking System to Track the Space Shuttle during “IT’s” EDL (Blackout) phase of reentry…

    • vetww2

      No, at short range, WOW is perfect. It takes only a small perterbation to defeat a poorly maneuverable, high speed weapon.

    • RDF

      Startrek 1 or 2 or voyager? You have to be specific with these credible sources.

    • vetww2

      Not at all so, Subsonic, supersonic, or hypersonic birds, all are vulnerable, depending on maneuverability. We have had close range hypersonics guns (HVAP) for years. Much more damaging explosive or shaped carge munitions require different, but achievable defense. 0 speed (mines) require a different approach, as do very low speed missiles (UUVs).
      As far as shields go, we have (but don’t field ) WOW, Wall of Water) defenses, developed from the Army’s Minefield Demolition Skid, using line charges. Trials at NSWC proved them a credible defense against supersonic birds.

  • Curtis Conway

    There is one weapon that can affect Hypersonic weapons . . . Directed Energy! DO NOT go directly to Lasers! Directed Energy encompases a huge portion of the EM Spectrum.

    • Hugh

      And rapid on-target.

      • Curtis Conway

        Length of illumination time can be ‘until manifestation of effectiveness’ plus some period of time.

        • Wish I could say more, but basically you are on the path of righteousness.

          • Curtis Conway

            DON’T SAY ANYTHING MORE!!!

    • RobM1981

      Not going to be easy, but it appears to be the logical path.

  • Ed L

    I curious if a number of small drones that can patrol for a month at at time and at an height of about 100,000 feet. It Could provide surveillance and warning of an area about the size of the South China sea and Philippine sea area, Europe to North Africa or anywere else in the world. A system that does not rely upon GPS which can be spoof.

    • vetww2

      We hve satellite obseratories doing just that. They cover all potential launch points.

    • RDF

      Well what does it rely on? Little hamsters taking sunshots?

  • vetww2

    If interested in hypersonic shock tube results and comments, please see my reply to Duane, below.

  • James Bowen

    One of the stupidest things the Navy has done since the Cold War ended, and that is saying a lot, was to neglect anti-ship missile development

  • Tracy Johnson

    I mentioned this elsewhere Yesterday. All they really need to do is use old torpedo counters from Jack Greene’s “Royal Navy” game. Albeit I misinterpreted the meaning of “counters”.

    • Secundius

      If your comment included a Website Address, it most likely got “Redacted”. USNI News for some unfathomable reason only unbeknownst to USNI News Moderators do that…

      • Tracy Johnson

        My comment is fully shown in three complete sentences. Where do you see any redaction? Or, where did you get the idea it was?

        • Secundius

          Other that THIS comment of Your’s! Where’s the THIRD. Unless you made the Comment under a Different NAME…

          • Tracy Johnson

            All three sentences were under the same comment. I made no other comments for this article under any other name. Not counting replies as comments. Additionally I included no website. Still wondering where could the redaction be?

          • Secundius

            Great thing to know! Information that was NEVER made to a Blogsite that DOESN’T pertain too this particular story…

          • Tracy Johnson

            Only because you mentioned it. You apparently were concerned for my well being about a redaction that did not occur. Thanks for caring by the way.

          • Secundius

            That, and was wondering about the “Quarterdeck Game” of Jack Greene. And how it applied to the Article…

          • Tracy Johnson

            Ah, I see the source of your concern. It all hinged on the the word “counters”, as used in wargames (a game piece). It was my vain attempt at double entendre. Although the joke went well in those circles. (No blogsite, just a few old yahoogroups list-server.)

          • Secundius

            I suspect you were inquiring about New Torpedo Countermeasures either IN or BEING developed…

          • Tracy Johnson

            I’m too far into retirement to care about that. Any curiosity would lean toward how to implement a countermeasure into a wargame mechanic. e.g., a die roll on a countermeasures table? Although one wargamer lamented that, once the hypersonic missile piece (counter) appears on the game board, it is too late.

          • Secundius

            Any Hypersonic Missile threat is probably going to be a Down the Throat Shot (i.e. Near Vertical). The Mk.45 maximum elevation is ~65*. And I suspect that the “127 Volcano” could be used, but only if Volcano compensated for the differences in the Angle of Attack. Once Volcano cleared the Barrel. Only drawback to Volcano is that its Slow Firing…

  • Randall Bouza

    A couple dozen hypersonic vehicles in bound from China and/or Russia, long range submarine torpedo’s releasing cruise missiles, dozens (hundreds?) of traditional land based and submarine launched nuclear ballistic missies in flight, all of this stuff inbound over the course of a few minutes over a wide geographic area, against defensive systems that have never faced real world real war chaos of this magnitude. You can forget about it. Probably the same can be said about Russia and China’s hopes as well.