HUNTSVILLE, Ala.—Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) under development by potential adversaries will require the United States to devise new ways to detect and defend against such advanced threats, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) said Aug. 16.

Research and development on HGV weapons is “challenging our planning calculus” because it can “complicate our sensing and our defensive approaches,” Adm. Cecil Haney said at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here. “The ability to find, fix, track and hold at risk these types of capabilities is becoming increasingly more difficult.”haney_navy

Existing sensors were designed to look at ballistic missiles, not hyper-glide weapons, which can move “at a pretty good clip,” Haney said. As a result, “we have to think about looking at it in different ways so that we can maximize sensing,” understand where an HGV is headed and determine how “we take it out.”

According to the Jamestown Foundation, China and Russia are developing HGVs because such vehicles have the potential to prevent U.S. ballistic missile defense systems from locking onto them. For instance, while China’s DF-ZF, formerly the Wu-14, is launched into the atmosphere in a trajectory similar to that of a ballistic missile, it is more maneuverable when it re-enters the atmosphere and can adjust its speed and altitude before gliding to its target.

“The DF-ZF’s unpredictable flight path and ability to be launched from a variety of missiles, each with different range capabilities, shows that China’s goals for its HGV is to evade ballistic missile defense systems that threaten its ability to launch a successful offensive or defensive strike,” the foundation wrote in April.

Haney said the United States should continue to develop and test its own hypersonic weapons partly to help it better understand such capabilities. The Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boeing [BA] collaborated on the X-51A Waverider, which was launched from a B-52 bomber. But the Waverider program ended in 2013 and had a lower launch success rate in tests than the DF-ZF, “making the Chinese program appear more advanced,” Jamestown wrote.