Countering Hypersonic Weapons Is Imperative
by David Vergun, DOD News
May 13, 2023
Missile threats to the U.S. homeland
and allies and partners abroad will only continue to grow, said the
commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck testified
yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic
Forces hearing regarding the fiscal year 2024 defense authorization
request and the Future Years Defense Program.
China continued to aggressively pursue and field a number of
advanced capabilities, including hypersonic weapons and delivery
platforms designed to evade detection across multiple domains and
strike targets anywhere on the globe, including North America, he
"Hypersonic weapons are extremely difficult to detect
and counter given the weapons' speed and maneuverability, low flight
paths and unpredictable trajectories," he said.
A radar dome belonging to the 23rd Space Operations Squadron Detachment 1 at Pituffik Space Base,
on snow covered Greenland
on April 4, 2023. Det. 1 falls under Space Delta 6 - Space Access and Cyberspace Operations. The detachment’s extreme northern location allows contact with polar orbiting satellites 10-12 times per day. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Space Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlin Castillo.)
weapons challenge NORAD's ability to provide threat warning and
attack assessments for Canada and the United States, he added.
"I believe the greatest risk for the United States stems from
our inability to change at the pace required by the changing
strategic environment," he said.
Homeland defense must be
recognized as essential to contingency plans at home and for power
projection abroad, VanHerck said, adding that it's vital that all
military planning account for that.
"In an area of incredible
innovation and technological achievement, inflexible, outdated
processes are a greater impediment to success than many of our
competitors' advancements," he said.
Navy Vice Adm. Jon A.
Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, testified that
countering hypersonic weapons is a challenge now and for the future.
To meet the hypersonic defense challenge, the Defense Department
has integrated tracking capabilities between existing space-,
ground- and sea-based radars, he said. "That capability is here
Today's sensor architecture and command and control
can track hypersonic threats to support warnings and domain
awareness. Aegis ships equipped with the sea-based terminal
capability can now engage some hypersonic threats in the latter part
of the missile's flight path, called the terminal phase.
March 31, 2016 - The Aegis guided-missile
cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) transits the Atlantic Ocean
during a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group in preparation for a future deployment. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Casey J. Hopkins.)
to the global maneuver capabilities of hypersonic missiles, a
space-based tracking and targeting capability is in clear need,"
The Space Force and the Missile Defense Agency are
co-developing hypersonic ballistic tracking from space, he said.
Later this year, hypersonic and ballistic-tracking, space-sensor
satellites will demonstrate tracking and targeting to support
hypersonic engagements. Those satellites will participate in flight
tests and real-world threat collections throughout fiscal year 2024,
The agency is working closely with the Navy to
upgrade its sea-based terminal defenses to counter more advanced
maneuvering and hypersonic threats. "Based on the threat evolution,
we will deliver the next SBT incremental upgrade in 2025," Hill
"Aegis SBT is the only active defense available today
to counter hypersonic missile threats," he added.
In order to
expand the battlespace against hypersonic threats, the agency has
initiated the Aegis Glide Phase Interceptor program. That program
uses proven Aegis weapon system engage-on-remote network sensors to
provide the depth of fire needed for terminal defenses, he said.
John F. Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy,
and Army Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commander of the Army's Space
and Missile Defense Command, also testified.
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