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Video Above: Air War in 2050 - Air Force Research Lab Commander on Hypersonics

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

Enemy ICBMs stream through space along with decoys, debris and countermeasures, hypersonic missiles travel so quickly along the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere that it is nearly impossible to develop a continuous “track” as they transit from one radar aperture to another and ground missile launches could happen in rapid succession creating a “salvo” effect in an overwhelming attack.

Hypersonic Missile Defense

Missile defense technology has made staggering steps forward in recent years, and is now poised for additional breakthroughs, yet an even newer paradigm is needed to counter an emerging new generation of threat such as hypersonic weapons, high-speed multiple re-entry vehicles and advanced countermeasures flying alongside ICBMs.

Recognizing this, the Pentagon is moving quickly to launch new constellations of high-tech, networked satellites for the specific purpose of establishing that “continuous” track and strengthening the layers of missile defense using paradigm-changing space technology.

Accomplishing this requires non-line-of-sight targeting and connectivity, high-speed data sharing, AI-enabled information processing and transmission and, perhaps most of all, the addition of new constellations of Low and Medium Earth Orbit Satellites to complement traditional Geosynchronous higher altitude satellites. 

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Essentially, hundreds of new satellites need to go up to help “blanket” otherwise unreachable target areas and exchange threat track data quickly enough and accurately enough to ensure a targeting “trajectory” is not lost as a high-speed weapon transits from one field of regard to another.

L3Harris awarded a contract to build the SDA's Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellite program.

L3Harris awarded a contract to build the SDA's Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellite program.

This is why the Space Development Agency is accelerating its plan to launch 28 new satellites by 2025 through its $1.3 billion Tranche 1 Tracking Layer missile warning program. Contracts were just awarded to Northrop Grumman and L3

Space Development Agency Directory Derek Tournear explained that the multi-pronged launch initiative, which will break up 28 satellites into four different launches with seven satellites on each, is grounded upon two key conceptual pillars. These are “proliferation” and “spiral development,” Tournear told reporters at the Pentagon, specifying that there is literally a need for hundreds and hundreds of satellites to operate in space while continuously gaining new capability every “two years” through ongoing spiraled development.

“We want to enable beyond line of sight targeting and get data for targets anywhere in the world. With new hypersonic glide vehicles, we need to detect them, track them and calculate a targeting solution to send down to an interceptor,” Tournear said.

The point with a massive increase in satellites is to not only build in redundancy and resiliency, but also to use breakthrough “throughput” speeds to cover more of the earth in real time, while networking large numbers of lower-altitude satellites to one another. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization