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By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Simply seeing, tracking or finding an attacking hypersonic missile is of course a crucial element needed for defense, yet it is simply not enough. Threat information of a maneuvering, high-speed missile transiting between radar fields of regard must not only be tracked, but also processed and communicated. 

Crucial data such as information about the flight trajectory needs to be organized, processed, sent through command and control and ultimately given to an interceptor or countermeasure of some kind. How can this happen? Can it happen fast enough to stop a hypersonic threat?

“There's a tremendous amount of data that comes out of that space. How do you effectively utilize that data in terms of integrating that with your weapon?” Mike Ciffone, director, Strategy, Capture & Operations, OPIR & Geospatial Systems, Northrop Grumman, told reports at the SMD Symposium.

Hypersonic Weapons: Processing Satellite Data

There are several ways that the Pentagon, Missile Defense Agency and industry partners are working to accomplish this in a matter of seconds, to give defenders an opportunity to actually knock out a hypersonic weapon.

Hypersonic DF-17 Missiles

DF-17 hypersonic missiles on parade in Beijing in 2019. Photo: AP

“One method is obviously data fusion and doing what fusion implies, I need to get that data that comes from the satellites down to the ground and to weapons as quickly as possible. A method of doing that is potentially processing some of that data in real time to a weapons database and transfer that data from the satellite system down to the weapon,” Ciffone said.

Some of the data processing, for instance, can potentially be AI-enabled and also performed at the point of data receipt, essentially wherever the incoming sensor data first arrives. 

Computer processing is becoming much faster and of course AI enabled, a series of technical breakthroughs which enable incoming sensor data to be instantly analyzed, organized, assessed and streamlined. With this, key points, moments or objects of relevance can be found and sent to commanders at speeds exponentially faster than what may have previously been possible.

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Hypersonic China CH-AS-X-13

Chinese Air Force Xian H-6N bomber launching a CH-AS-X-13 anti-ship ballistic missile over the South China Sea

The success of this also naturally depends upon networking satellites and sensor nodes to one another, something which is a major focus for Pentagon, MDA and Northrop developers. 

This may be one key reason why the military services are quickly building and deploying faster, smaller and better networked Low and Medium Earth Orbit satellites. 

Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space and Sensor program (HBTSS)

These new systems complement larger Geospatial satellite networks and are designed to closely cover wide swaths of expansive geographical areas by networking. This is exactly why Northrop Grumman is engineering, testing and planning to deploy a new network of smaller, high-resolution satellites called Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space and Sensor program (HBTSS).

Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS)

Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS)

“When you look at a system like this where we have a constellation of many dozens of satellites in the future, you want to get a model of the performance of that integrated constellation. And so having the digital engineering capability and the modeling and simulation tools allows us to model the performance of those complex architectures and get to optimize the system in a way now that we wouldn't have traditionally been able to do with legacy methods,” Ciffone said. “When it comes to national security, failure is not an option. The nation can't afford to rely on unproven technology when lives are at stake.” 

-- Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President