The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Pentagon, has taken note of the advances made by Russia and China in hypersonic missiles technology. Accordingly, it is developing a space sensor system to intercept hypersonic missiles in the air.
The US aims to develop space sensor technology for tracking incoming hypersonic missiles. This technology is called Hypersonic Ballistic Missile Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS).
The US Missile Agency is currently testing Phase IIa of HBTSS.
According to Missile Defence Agency spokeswoman Maria Njoku, the HBTSS will be integrated with the National Space Defence Architecture, which deploys different systems in different orbits to detect and track conventional ballistic missiles as well as other threats like ICBMs.
Explaining how HBTSS will work, Njoku said,
HBTSS will be a network of sensors on a constellation of satellites in orbit around the Earth with the ability to observe global threats without the line of site limitations of ground-based radars.
The Missile Defence Agency has also awarded Phase II development projects for HBTSS to L3Harris, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Leidos.
The main difference in intercepting ballistic missiles and ICBMs compared to hypersonic missiles is the response time. ICBMs allow a response time of 20 minutes, which allows firing of 1 or 2 interceptors.
Hypersonic missiles travel at five times the speed of sound and can be maneuvered in flight to travel close to the earth to escape radar detection. Added to this is the fact that they can be fired from mobile launchers or warships.
Hypersonic missiles are of two types, the Hypersonic Glide Missiles (HGV) and the Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCM). HGVs are carried by rockets and released 40-50 km above the earth. HCMs have engines mounted on them and are released 20-30 km above the ground.
The radars deployed today do not have the range to detect incoming hypersonic missiles in time to launch interceptors to destroy them. The radar systems require airborne sensor node to extend their range. By the time you detect an incoming missile, it is already too late. Detection is required at the launch itself.
HBTSS is being designed to detect and continuously track hypersonic threats with a single sensor payload. It will give time to military commanders on the ground to take countermeasures to destroy the missiles in the air.