Missile Defense Agency develops anti-missile system to counter hypersonic weapons

Since the announcement of the entry into service of the Kh47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile in the Russian Air Force in April 2018, hypersonic weapons, and systems to protect against them, have become the main concern of American military authorities. And for good reason ! Indeed, hypersonic missiles like the Kinzhal, the future Tzirkon, but also modern ballistic missiles like the Russian Iskander or the Chinese DF26, have flight profiles that protect them from the American anti-missile shield, nor the THAAD, neither the Patriot PAC-3, nor the SM3 and SM6 equipping American destroyers are able to effectively intercept these weapons. In addition, if they can naturally carry nuclear warheads, they can also be equipped with conventional military charges. Paradoxically, it is especially this last point which poses serious problems for Western strategists.

The risk of using a ballistic missile equipped with a nuclear warhead is addressed by the nuclear response capabilities of the doctrines of Western countries, such as France, Great Britain and the United States, which have at all times several nuclear submarines launching missiles “diluted” in the ocean depths, and capable of delivering a massive nuclear response to enemy cities. On the other hand, the use of such weapons would be largely disproportionate to the use of conventional strikes, the majority of Western doctrines not adhering to the concept of a nuclear first strike.

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The first photographs of Mig31 carrying the Kh47M2 Kinzhal missile caused a major awareness of NATO's new vulnerability to Russia

Yet hypersonic missiles like the Kinzhal, by their speed and supposed precision, not only make any interception impossible or very unlikely, but they reduce reaction times to such an extent that they constitute ideal “decapitation” weapons, to eliminate the military and civilian authorities of the adversary, as well as its communication posts, its logistics nodes, and its major infrastructures such as naval and air bases. With the right intelligence, they can also eliminate the ground and air components of the opposing deterrent, before any response can even be considered. In other words, with enough Khinzhal and Tzirkon in service, supported by Iskander missiles, Kalibr and Novator, Russia would be able to carry out a devastating first strike on European NATO countries, eliminating all coordinated response and defense capabilities, without crossing the nuclear threshold.

It is therefore not surprising that the Pentagon, for whom this scenario is perfectly credible in Europe as in the Pacific, is seeking to acquire comparable systems as quickly as possible, and that no less than 4 hypersonic weapons programs of different types, ranging from hypersonic gliders for strategic weapons, to short and medium range precision systems, are being studied across the Atlantic, with particularly short deadline objectives. It is also not surprising that the Missile Defense Agency has launched two programs aimed at enabling the American anti-missile shield to intercept these weapons.

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The Missile Defense Agency is also developing a version of the SM3, the SM3-Hawk, to intercept hypersonic missiles.

Two programs, shrouded in a high degree of confidentiality, have been launched for this purpose. The “Valkyrie” program , the study of which was entrusted to Lockheed-Martin, is intended to strengthen the THAAD-Patriot pair, while the SM3-Hawk program, entrusted to Raytheon, must provide it with hypersonic missile interception capabilities for destroyers and cruisers. US Navy AEGIS. Each program received a budget of more than $4 million for the preliminary study phase, and must submit its conclusions by summer 2020.

Russia would also have undertaken, the development of defense systems capable of intercepting hypersonic missiles. Europe, on the other hand, currently has no program comparable to the Valkyrie or the SM3-Hawk. The Aster30 Block 1NT standard currently under development will make it possible to intercept traditional ballistic trajectories for medium-range ballistic missiles, but will not be capable of intercepting hypersonic trajectories.

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