DARPA's hypersonic missile countermeasure has taken a major step forward

We're hacking its aerodynamics.
Ameya Paleja
Artist's illustration of the Glide Breaker interceptorDARPA

The U.S.'s ability to counter emerging hypersonic threats has completed a major milestone as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker Program

Among its other projects, DARPA is also focusing on the development of the hypersonic missiles which are currently under flight testing. However, with adversarial countries such as Russia and North Korea having tested their versions of hypersonic missiles, the U.S. also needs to develop systems that can counter these missiles if they were ever fired toward U.S. territory. 

How does one counter hypersonic missiles? 

To understand how a hypersonic missile can be countered, one needs to understand how the hypersonic missile works. There are two major hypersonic missiles: a cruise missile and a hypersonic boost-glide missile. While the former works like any other cruise missile but at hypersonic speeds, the latter is relatively easier to work with. 

A hypersonic boost-glide missile consists of a booster rocket that takes the weapon to hypersonic (>Mach 5) and then detaches from it. The weapon then glides towards its target and can use the lift from the airflow to maneuver itself. Dubbed too fast to detect, these missiles have the potential to be highly destructive. 

DARPA's program aims to counter the weapon during its glide phase, hence Glide Breaker. Initiated in 2018, the program developed and demonstrated two prototypes of a divert and attitude control system (DACS) during Phase I. Developed by Northrop Grumann and Aerojet Rocketdyne; these system prototypes enabled a kill vehicle to intercept the hypersonic weapon in its glide phase, Space.com reported.

Glide Breaker Phase 2

For Phase 2 of the program, DARPA is looking for "innovative proposals to conduct wind tunnel and flight testing of jet interaction effects," the press release stated. 

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Further detailing the testing in a Broad Agency Announcement, DARPA writes that the proposed testing is to collect data on jet interaction effects between divert and attitude control jets and a hypersonic crossflow at conditions relevant to a future glide-phase interceptor. The results of the phase will be used to inform design and model development to enable the acquisition of an interceptor using the DACS system. 

Together, Phases 1 and 2 will fill the technology gaps in the U.S. plan to build a hypersonic weapon interceptor, the press release added. 






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