For decades, cruise missiles have enabled military forces to project power from a distance, crossing oceans and national borders to deliver devastating impact upon their targets. Since then, a variety of nations have developed and implemented missile defense systems geared toward stopping a threat that travels faster than the speed of sound. Nations such as the United States, Russia, and China have been working to deploy missiles that can travel up to five times the speed of sound, bypassing current defensive measures. The U.S. Government, in an effort to defend against these new weapons, has selected three top defense firms to develop counteractive measures.
The three firms, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin, have been granted a combined $60.86 million to separately develop concept designs for a prototype interceptor designed to counter hypersonic weapons during their “glide” phase of flight, which occurs after they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere to fly toward their target. Since hypersonic missiles can fly at speeds up to five times faster than sound and rapidly maneuver to obscure their trajectory, all three firms are working to counter a challenging threat.
The desired interceptors will be designed to integrate into the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense destroyers currently deployed by the U.S. Navy, which detect, track, control, and engage current threats. Aegis, like most existing missile defense systems, is designed to counter slower-moving threats and is currently unable to intercept the new hypersonic weapons.
The Missile Defense Agency’s Sea-based Weapon Systems Program Officer, Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to have these contractors working with us to develop design concepts for the GPI… Multiple grants enable us to execute a risk reduction phase to investigate industry solutions and exploit the benefits of a competitive environment to demonstrate the most effective and dependable Glide Phase Interceptor for regional hypersonic defense as soon as possible.”
While the combined value of the contracts seems small compared to the $725 billion the U.S. Government spent on national defense in 2020, bringing prototypes to full production will generate billions in future revenue for the three firms. With any luck, the new systems will move from prototype to production at a rapid pace and further the ongoing international arms race between the three world powers.