US seeks upgrades to hypersonic weapons and defense capabilities

The US Defense Department announced that hypersonic weapons and defense development are among its top priorities for the next year.

 US Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Hypersonic weapons and defenses are among the US Defense Department's top priorities, the department said in a statement on Tuesday on its website.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded contracts to US defense firms Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to advance the development of a new generation of interceptors as part of the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program, the Defense Department statement said, adding that the program is critical to the MDA's ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

The companies said that they were ahead of schedule and set to deliver their first systems before 2028.

Along with placing missile defense systems on the US territory of Guam, the MDA and the US Army have requested funding for ballistic, hypersonic and cruise missile defense capabilities.

Glide phase interceptor development

The MDA is also developing a glide phase interceptor to counter the growing threat of hypersonic missiles. As part of its GPI program, the MDA chose three contractors in 2021 to compete for the contract and then narrowed the candidates down to two.

 A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

“We developed the glide phase interceptor concept because when you look at that threat, its vulnerability occurs in the glide phase.”

US Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill

“We developed the glide phase interceptor concept because when you look at that threat, its vulnerability occurs in the glide phase,” Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill told Defense News on Friday, according to the Defense Department. “It's through its ballistic boost, or its through its launch or it's coming up as a cruise missile. But when it's in that glide phase, that's where it does broad maneuvers, that's where it's bleeding off heat, [and] that is where it's the most vulnerable. And you can track it, and you can see it and you can develop fire control on it. And we know that we can do that now. So what we're missing is that weapon.”

In cooperation with the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics and the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, the Defense Department on Thursday announced that $2 million would be granted to four universities—Texas A&M, the University of Virginia, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the Florida International University—to promote research into hypersonics technology, highlighting the importance of the field to US national security.

Furthermore, The Jerusalem Post reported in April that the US was aiming to complete the development of its first operational hypersonic weapons by Fiscal Year 2023, according to a Defense Department budget proposal overview.

According to the Post report, the US also highlighted plans to boost its Naval capabilities, aiming to have hypersonic missiles aboard its Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 guided missile destroyers by Fiscal Year 2025.

Michael Starr contributed to this report.