• Giesler LLC

Space and Missile Defense

Photo: L3Harris

One piece of technology that is commonly being discussed right now is next-generation Hypersonic missiles and how best to defend against them. With our recent discussions of the importance of protecting Guam, let’s take a look at what is currently being worked on to defend the United States against these types of weapons.

What are hypersonic missiles?

Hypersonic missiles are missiles that move faster than the speed of sound, which is 761 mph at sea level and 663 mph at 35,000 feet. They are extremely expensive to build and launch. There are three types of non-ICBM hypersonic weapons: aero-ballistic, glide vehicles, and cruise missiles.

Hypersonic aero-ballistic are dropped from an aircraft, accelerated to hypersonic speed using a rocket, and follows a ballistic trajectory. They can travel 2.06 miles per second. The hypersonic weapons recently used by Russian forces on Ukraine are generally this type and have been around since the 1980s.

Hypersonic glide vehicles are boosted on a rocket to a high altitude and then glides to its target, maneuvering as needed. They can travel 3.06 miles per second. China, Russian, and the United States all have Hypersonic glide vehicle technology to varying degrees of effectiveness.

Hypersonic cruise missiles are boosted by a rocket to hypersonic speed and then uses a scramjet to sustain that speed. Scramjets use air to breathe, allowing for smaller launch rockets that cost less and launched from more locations. They can travel 1.03 miles per second. These are in development by the United States and China.

What is being developed to defend against them?

Next-generation hypersonic weapons are difficult to defend against due to their speed and maneuverability as they fly along their trajectory. To that end, the United States is working a multilayered approach to defense.

First, the United States is working on a network of satellites with the ability to track hypersonic missiles in space. The Space Development Agency recently awarded L3Harris and Northrop Grumman a contract to build 28 satellite prototypes with the ability to collect infrared data and provide network communications for continuous missile detection, warning, tracking, and identification worldwide. These will eventually work in tandem with other satellites in low-earth orbit to create a robust network for tracking even the newest generation of hypersonic missiles.

To intercept these tracked missiles, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is working on a Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI). GPIs will be able to intercept hypersonic missiles and shoot them down in the middle of their flight. These will be integrated with ground radar and the new network of satellites to locate, track, intercept, and destroy any hypersonic targets.

What’s next?

Space and missile defense is an extremely important part of our nation’s defensive strategy. With so many allies and strategic locations, it is important to be able to defend against hypersonic weapons launched from anywhere in the world.

Space and missile defense is the focus for this month’s Space & Defense Symposium, taking place August 8-11th, 2022 in Huntsville, Alabama. Panel highlights will include Triad: Cyber, Space, and Special Operations; Acquisition Update for Space and Missile Defense; Challenges for Space and Missile Defense; and Space and Missile Defense Imperatives. To learn more about the Space & Defense Symposium or register to attend, go to https://smdsymposium.org/. To learn more about missile defense, check out www.missiledefenseadvocacy.org.


1. https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/category/missile-defense-news/

2. https://theconversation.com/how-hypersonic-missiles-work-and-the-unique-threats-they-pose-an-aerospace-engineer-explains-180836

3. https://www.defenseone.com/defense-systems/2022/07/hypersonic-missile-tracking-satellites-greenlit-development/374618/

4. https://eurasiantimes.com/us-is-putting-together-a-constellation-of-missile-surveillance-satellites/

5. https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/us-successfully-tested-lockheed-hypersonic-missile-this-week-sources-2022-07-13/

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