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DARPA issues contract proposition for hypersonic missile defense

By Stephen Carlson
DARPA issues contract proposition for hypersonic missile defense
Artist's conception of a hypersonic missile during its launch phase. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Nov. 14 (UPI) -- DARPA has released proposals for the development of missile defense systems called Glide Breaker fielding interceptors capable of downing the hypersonic weapons currently in development by other nations.

"Glide Breaker will develop an enabling technology critical for an advanced interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic vehicles," DARPA said in the contract solicitation.

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Requirements for bids include research, development and testing of new technology for the Glide Breaker system. Most of the details concerning the actual system are classified, and no specific funding for the program in 2019 has been obligated.

Hypersonic weapons under development by countries such as Russia and China are considered by many defense leaders a priority threat to be addressed, with current satellites, as well as sea- and land-based interceptors, being inadequate to defeat hypersonic glide vehicles and potential guided missiles that can fly lower and maneuver differently than existing ballistic missiles, evading U.S. sensors and defenses.

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On Tuesday, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin said in a discussion at CSIS that developing countermeasures for hypersonic weapons is a key priority due to developments by Russia and China.

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"China has done dozens of hypersonic tests. So has Russia," Griffins said. He added that the U.S. is developing its own weapons in response.

"We did all the initial research... we chose not to weaponize it," Griffin said. "If they choose to pursue these capabilities we have no choice but to respond in kind."

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced in the past the pending deployment of it's Avangard scramjet hypersonic boost-glide missile mounted on a ICBM by 2020. The Avangard would be able to mount either a conventional or nuclear warhead, according to Russia.

Russia claims that the Avangard can perform high-speed maneuvers at speeds in excess of Mach 20, which would make it extremely difficult to intercept by existing missile defense systems already deployed by the U.S. and allies. China has also completed a number of successful tests of the technology.

Though details on Glide Breaker are classified, it would likely be part of a layered system integrated into the existing missile defense network using new satellites and weapons to detect and destroy hypersonic missiles. The Missile Defense Agency also has its own program developing layered sensors for the purpose, including constellations of lower-orbit satellites.

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