A new Congressional Research Service report lays out some of the issues involved in building a hypersonic missile defense system.
The report comes as Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, has paused MDA’s hypersonic missile defense prototype effort until later this year to split the agency’s focus into near-term options and a longer term more “elegant” solution (Defense Daily, Aug. 5)
“Some analysts have suggested that space-based sensor layers—integrated with tracking and targeting systems to direct high-performance interceptors or directed energy weapons—could theoretically present viable options for defending against hypersonic weapons,” according to the CRS report. “Other analysts have questioned the affordability, technical feasibility, and/or utility of hypersonic weapons defense. In addition, some analysts have argued that the United States’ current command and control architecture would be incapable of ‘processing data quickly enough to respond to and neutralize an incoming hypersonic threat.'”
Hill suggested that MDA wants to field a terminal phase hypersonic missile defense system in the near-term and a longer-term glide phase intercept option.
“We do believe that the glide phase, further back in that trajectory, is always better than the terminal systems that we have today, what I call the Hail Mary shots,” he said.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which reviews and validates the development and integration of all joint capabilities, said this month that he wants to make sure that the Pentagon “gets a space layer funded in the future so that we can actually see and characterize these threats on a global perspective.” (Defense Daily, Aug. 12).
As envisioned, the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) would have seven layers and 550 satellites by 2025.
One component of the NDSA may be the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program to track future missile threats, such as hypersonic weapons.
HBTSS aims to augment the military’s early missile warning satellite constellations like the Space-Based Infrared Sensors (SBIRS) and forthcoming Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR), and last November four companies won $20 million contracts to develop prototype payload designs (Defense Daily, Nov. 1 2019). Yet, MDA cited “competing priorities” in requesting no funding for HBTSS in the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget request.
In fiscal 2021, the Space Development Agency (SDA) requested $72 million for the Tracking Phenomenology Experiment (TPE) to develop an algorithm to track hypersonic weapons and $99 million to “develop and demonstrate a hypersonic tracking layer by FY 2023.”
Together, MDA budgeted $206.8 million for hypersonic defense in fiscal 2021, $49.4 million more than last year, and $659 million across the future years defense plan.
“Some analysts have questioned the current division of labor between the SDA and MDA on hypersonic missile defense,” per the CRS report. “SDA director [Derek] Tournear has responded to criticisms of potential redundancies between the two agencies, stating that they both report to the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and are co-contributors to a hybrid architecture.”
Questions for lawmakers to Pentagon officials may include the necessity and technological feasibility of hypersonic missile defense options, the alignment of technological maturity with current funding levels, collaboration between SDA and MDA, and the command and control needed for hypersonic missile defense, the report said.