This week the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the program to intercept hypersonic weapons is being throttled due to funding issues.
Last November, MDA selected Raytheon Technologies
[RTX], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] to complete accelerated concept designs for the hypersonic defense interceptor (Defense Daily, Nov. 22, 2021).
At the time, MDA said these prototype designs are expected to fit within the current Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, fired from Aegis-capable destroyers using Vertical Launch System cells and integrated into the Baseline 9 Aegis Weapon System. That work is set to be finished by September 2022.
MDA director Vice. Adm. Jon Hill now says the timeline for testing and down-selecting may be delayed due to the indefinite postponement of a markup of the defense appropriations bill while the government operates under a continuing budget resolution.
“We’re living in a world right now where we don’t have the current year appropriations and we also don’t have insight into the following year’s topline. So, unfortunately, that throttles this program,” Hill said during an American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) symposium on Feb. 2.
“It’s not a technology issue, first of all. It is purely a financial throttling and so I can’t say much more other than the fact that we’ve got three great proposals on the table that we’re evaluating now and that’s going to inform us as we move forward to the next step in the program,” he continued.
He also noted present sensors and communications systems can see hypersonic weapons but cannot yet create a proper firing solution.
“We’re seeing them, we’re capturing data, we’re collecting on them,” but current U.S. sensors are “not always in the exact right place, because many of them are land-based and stationary.”
An analysis of alternatives conducted by the Pentagon outline what the agency still needs on sensing, command and control and weapons to accomplish hypersonic defense.
In a video Hill played at the event, MDA outlined a theoretical engagement where Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensors (HBTSS) detect a missile launch, first, second and third stage separations, and continuously feed the data to the Ballistic Missile Defense System Overhead Persistent Infrared Architecture (BOA) to help make a track of the missile.
An Aegis system on a Navy destroyer then receives the track, plans a firing solution, and fires the glide phase interceptor.
Hill underscored the interceptor has to travel faster and with more agility than the target missile. The interceptor would also connect to the HBTSS for updated tracking to accurately hit the target.
He said the Standard Missile (SM)-6 missile currently has a “nascent ability” to hit hypersonic missile targets given its high-speed maneuver capabilities.
Last year, MDA awarded Northrop Grumman and L3Harris Technologies [LHX] contracts to produce HBTSS on-orbit prototypes. The prototypes are due to be delivered for launch in 2023. (Defense Daily, Jan. 15, 2021).