The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) this week changed its plans to develop a counter-hypersonic missile defense system, ending one program and redirecting it into a nearer-term initiative.

The MDA is no longer issuing a final Request for Prototype Proposals (RPP) for the Regional Glide Phase Weapons System (RGPWS) and is instead shifting to a newly designed Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) initiative, according to a Feb. 2 notice.

Concept art of hypersonic missile defense systems. (Image: Northrop Grumman)
Concept art of hypersonic missile defense systems. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

In August, MDA paused its hypersonic missile defense prototype effort until later in 2020 to split this RGPWS effort into near-term and longer-term solutions (Defense Daily, Aug. 5).

At the time, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said as the agency went through the analysis of alternatives for the interceptor, they recognized there were two paths to get to a weapon system, near and long-term interception paths. Hill defined near term as the mid-2020s and long term more in the 2030s.

The new notice said MDA completed its assessment and review of all requirements at all levels of the missile defense system and “will accelerate the hypersonic missile defense program under a newly designated Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) initiative.”

Accordingly, GPI will be developed in phases “to deliver increasing regional defensive capabilities to the U.S. warfighter over time.”

MDA said it intends to launch the first phase of GPI by issuing an announcement on the website in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021, which means by the end of March.

MDA spokesman Mark Wright told Defense Daily the initial phase of GPI is expected to be available for fielding in the mid to late 2020s, “dependent on industry response.”

In contrast, the original planned fielding date for RGPWS was in the early 2030s.

“The Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) is leveraging information from RGPWS to accelerate the development of an operational system for hypersonic missile defense using the proven Aegis platform to provide regional hypersonic missile defense,” Wright added.

In order to develop and deliver GPI, MDA plans to leverage various missile defense assets including interceptors; sensors; command, control, battle management and communications system (C2BMC) in different domains to defend against threats from regional, ballistic, hypersonic, and cruise missiles.