Hypersonic weapons may prove difficult for US to track

The United States Department of Defense is struggling to keep up in their lines of defense against hypersonic weapons - a threat that continues to creep up.

Military vehicles carrying hypersonic cruise missiles DF-100 drive past Tiananmen Square during the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing (photo credit: REUTERS)
Military vehicles carrying hypersonic cruise missiles DF-100 drive past Tiananmen Square during the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China in Beijing
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States Congress is venturing into uncharted territory as nations invest in the development of hypersonic weapons, creating new hurdles to conquer. However, the US has a slightly different focus - building a defense system against the threats posed by this form of weaponry.

The United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Space Development Agency (SDA) is working to build a system to thwart any possible attacks on the home front from hypersonic weapons.

Tracking and transporting the different layers that come within the National Defense Space Architecture system (NDSA) requires various interceptors. According to the Congressional Research Service, MDA and SDA are continuing to develop new ways to make necessary adjustments to deal with clear and present threats.

What are hypersonic weapons?

Hypersonic weapons operate similarly to ballistic missiles and can pose completely detrimental threats to the safety of the US home front. This has the potential to act as one of the biggest physical threats to the region in generations. Hypersonic weapons fly at speeds of at least Mach 5, or roughly 1 mile per second. To the untrained and ill-prepared, this has the capability of mass destruction.

Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW)_311 (credit: Wiki Commons)Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW)_311 (credit: Wiki Commons)

While the US is not expected to field this type of weapon until at least 2023, two major world powers have already begun toying around with the technology - and it's certainly not without threats or consequences if successful. Russia was said to have fielded its first hypersonic weapons in December 2019, while several experts believe that China fielded hypersonic weapons as early as 2020.

The establishment of a tracking layer “provides global indications, warning, tracking, and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems.” This has proved to be one of the biggest obstacles in the US scope of building a line of defense against these super-speeding missiles. 

With this rising tension, analysts for Congress have had to come up with possible solutions. They have recommended assorted solutions such as space-based sensor layers which would integrate with both tracking and targeting systems in order to direct interceptors or other directed energy weapons.

According to the 2019 Missile Defense Review produced by Congress,  “such sensors take advantage of the large area viewable from space for improved tracking and potentially targeting of advanced threats, including hypersonic [weapons].”

However, other analysts have questioned just how "affordable, technical feasibility, and/or usable the hypersonic weapons defense would be."

Other analysts have argued that the United States's system that is used currently for command and control architecture would be incapable of “processing data quickly enough to respond to and neutralize an incoming hypersonic threat.”

Active threats for the Department of Defense

Russia and China both pose very active threats, especially in the area of these missiles. According to the US Department of Defense, China is not far behind Russia's ability to directly affect the US home front — only about seven to 10 years. Since both nations are active in the Arctic, it would be easy to attack the US. Officials also characterized both China and Russia as peer competitors in both space and the cyber domain. 

With hard work and active research, the US can come to a solution to help sort out a proper line of defense from these active threats.