The US launched a constellation of satellites against the threat of hypersonic missiles

Hypersonic weapon systems are classified based on whether they reach speeds of Mach 5 or higher, which is 5 times the speed of sound. It is also useful to group these weapons by range: short range (less than 1000 km), medium range (1000 to 3000 km), medium range (3000 to 5500 km) and intercontinental (more than 5500 km). km).

The two main categories of these new weapons are hypersonic glide systems and powered cruise missiles. Powered cruise missiles are multi-stage rocket motors that accelerate to the point where a ramjet-powered sustainer stage can take control and complete the mission. Hypersonic accelerated gliding systems operate by accelerating the glide vehicle to hypersonic speeds in multiple stages, usually using solid rockets, and then gliding without an engine to complete its mission.

Hypersonic weapons

Hypersonic strike weapons are being developed for use at both short and intercontinental ranges. Russia has reportedly deployed a long-range intercontinental system called Avangard, as well as an air-launched ballistic missile, Kinzhal. Russia is also developing Zircon, a ship-based hypersonic system capable of attacking land and sea targets.

For its part, China has publicly demonstrated its DF-17 medium-range hypersonic glide system, and there is plenty of information about major testing of its new DF-ZF.

The US is also developing mid-range and mid-range hypersonic strike weapons. These include conventional rapid strike weapons (CPS), long-range hypersonic weapons (LRHW), AGM-183 air-launched rapid response weapon (ARRW), and tactical missile weapons (TBG).

Offensive weapons, at the forefront of hypersonic warfare, will likely never cease to evolve as a critical component of great power competition, offering rapid strike capabilities over long ranges.

Technological advances in propulsion, materials, sensors, warheads, aerodynamics, and component miniaturization will allow effective weapons to be produced at lower costs and in smaller sizes, leading to significantly larger arsenals.

At the same time, significant hypersonic defense capabilities are expected to be developed concurrently with the introduction of offensive strike weapons, and the United States is expected to take advantage of the initial advantages of its global ICBM defense systems.

The first integrated defense systems are expected to emerge, offering effective intermediate and final protection against hypersonic attacks. Availability-based approaches should lead to smaller, more capable interceptors and fully integrated non-kinetic capabilities in the future.

Detection and tracking

The sensor architecture used in missile defense today is focused on powerful ground-based radars. But in today’s increasingly complex air and missile threat environment, ground-based systems have inherent limitations.

Ground-based radars have a limited ability to detect and track low-flying threats such as cruise missiles, which remain hidden until they get close due to the curvature of the Earth. They are few in number compared to their size and price.

Radar installations are also potential targets due to their fixed position and power. In particular, cruise missile defense, hypersonic defense, and combat unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs) depend on expanding the prevention horizon.

Cruise missiles, unlike ballistic missiles, fly on unpredictable flight paths and at lower altitudes, often beyond the range of ground sensors. Instead, onboard sensors can provide continuous coverage and are not limited by the orbital mechanics of the spacecraft, but have a smaller detection area and must be located somewhere.

Space-based sensors expand coverage by providing sensor coverage beyond the line of sight of ground-based radars and looking outward or downward at topographic features that might obscure cruise missiles or small unmanned units from view.

Early detection, in turn, allows time for dispersal, concealment, or other forms of passive defense, and increases the time for active defense intervention.

Satellites in low orbit (LEO), medium orbit (MEO), geostationary orbit (GEO), and extremely elliptical orbit (HEO) are examples of traditional multi-orbit designs. LEO constellations benefit from proliferation and economies of scale, but suffer from orbital retention and longevity problems.

MEO constellations provide greater coverage and persistence, although they may require more expensive satellites with a wider observing system aperture. GEO and HEO orbits require fewer satellites to cover a particular pole or longitude, but are much more expensive. Constellations of space sensors are capable of tracking rockets from launch to their final destination.

This cradle-to-death monitoring capability allows space-based sensors to continuously track a moving threat, making them particularly important for countering hypersonic ballistic missiles and maneuvering. This also minimizes the need for many ground sensors to deviate from their route, ensuring a consistent target trajectory.

American constellation

The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Space Development Agency (SDA) recently announced a low-Earth orbit space program to detect and intercept hypersonic vehicles.

The six satellites are part of the joint Homeland Security Mission (USSF-124) between MDA and SDA, which aims to track hypersonic weapons. Four of these satellites are missile tracking sensors manufactured by L3Harris to group SDA tracking layers.

MDA’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program consists of two other satellites, one produced by L3Harris and the other by Northrop Grumman.

The goal of the Tracking Layer group is to create a global network of sensors that will act as a barrier against ballistic and hypersonic missiles from China and Russia.

HBTSS contains sensors designed to track threats with high precision and relay information to interceptor missiles that will try to shoot them down, while SDA satellites are used to detect hypersonic threats.

To intercept hypersonic missiles, HBTSS must integrate fire control data with sufficient precision to direct the interceptor to shoot down the incoming missile. Although infrared and electro-optical detection technologies have been developed, tracking hypersonic missiles is significantly more complex than conventional ballistic missile warning.

Distinguishing a hypersonic heat signature from Earth’s background can be compared to observing a slightly brighter signature in an ocean of signatures, which requires significant testing and modeling to confirm.

This constellation, USSF-124, will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, in 2024.

(According to agencies and The EurAsian Times)

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