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SEPTEMBER 2020

US Aims To ‘Level Up’ Missile Defences, Still No Answer To Hypersonic Missiles

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US Aims To ‘Level Up’ Missile Defences, Still No Answer To Hypersonic Missiles

The US still appears to have no answer to hypersonic weapons

During the virtual Space Missile Defense symposium held by the US military last week, some of its plans to ‘level up’ its missile defences over the next two years were outlined. These include plans to commission the first “laser battalion,” to demonstrate that sailors can knock down ICBMs with missiles fired from surface ships, and to establish two ‘counter-Russian’ missile defence sites in Eastern Europe. 

While the measures discussed were described as being part of a series of innovations in missile defence aimed at deterring Russia, China, Iran, or any other adversary, none of the measures appear capable of matching the rapid technological advances made in recent times by the Russians in particular.

Among the key developments outlined in the symposium is the ‘Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense’, or MSHORAD, basically a Stryker vehicle outfitted with anti-missile defences, including the laser-equipped DE-MSHORAD. “Expect to have the first battalion fielded in 2021 with four battalions by 2023,” Lt. Gen. Dan Karbler, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told the audience.

Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, said that the 50kw laser-mounted Stryker was due to be commissioned in 2022. The service is also working on a 200kw truck-mounted laser dubbed IFPC-HEL that Thurgood said would be deployable (although not necessarily deployed) with platoons in 2024.

By the following year, the Army wants to field an even more powerful laser, the 300kw Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser, or IFPC-HEL.

The Army also wants to equip mobile units with portable microwave weapons, which, Thurgood said, are more useful against drone swarms than lasers, as microwaves can destroy the electronics of more targets at once. But the systems required to support a directed microwave weapon, built at scale, are still too large to deploy on a truck. Scientists are working on reducing the size and weight of the components to make this more feasible.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency hopes that by the end of next year in Europe, a new Aegis Ashore missile interceptor site will have been completed in Poland (after delays due, in part, to COVID-19). “We are seeing an uptick in terms of the Army Corps construction,” said Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. The project has a projected completion date of 2022.

Next year will also see the Navy test its ability to down ICBMs with SM-3 missiles fired from an Aegis destroyer and guided by off-ship radar via the Sea-Based Weapons System, or SBWS, Hill said.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy also will test the SBWS against a medium-range ballistic missile, and in a separate test against two separate short-range ballistic missiles, he said.

After several delays work is also expected to continue on the new next-generation interceptor program, an effort to build new missiles capable of hitting more advanced ICBMs that deploy decoys or multiple warheads. MDA went back to the drawing board on the project last August, cancelling the program. It drafted a new request and re-awarded it to Northrop Grumman in May.

The MDA has “paused” its program to design an interceptor that could take out hypersonic missiles, Hill said, to look at near-term options. But the hypersonic threat is only building. That means that a new request could emerge next year, which could speak to the feasibility of different concepts for countering hypersonic missiles.

All of this activity reflects the growing importance the US is placing on deterring and defending against missile proliferation worldwide. Congress put missile defence under the jurisdiction of the defence undersecretary for research and engineering in 2018. However, MDA’s budget requests and appropriations have shrunk as other services have taken on more of the “missile defence” role for themselves.

While the US and its allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are trying to develop new missiles and missile defence systems capable of responding to the new systems being developed by Russia, Iran and China, it appears that they have no answers as yet or in the immediate future. LINK

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