MBDA joins race for European hypersonic interceptor with 'Aquilla'

MBDA and its partners are officially developing a hypersonic interceptor for the European Defense Fund's planned HYDIS2 program.
Christopher McFadden
Artistic representation of the hypersonic system in action.


MBDA, along with 19 partners and 30 subcontractors from 14 European countries, has announced its intention to develop a hypersonic interceptor system called "Aquilla." The system will be developed for the European Defense Fund (EDF) to compete for its Hypersonic Defense Interceptor Study (HYDIS2) project.

The HYDIS2 proposal from the missile manufacturer has been granted €80 million ($87.5 million) funding for the EDF's 2023 work program without the need for a proposal call. Officials from MBDA anticipate being under a contract with the OCCAR of the European defense materiel agency by the end of the year. The project is a joint effort among MBDA's partners in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, which includes Roxel and ArianeGroup in France, Bayern-Chemie and OHB in Germany, Avio Aero in Italy, and GKN Fokker in the Netherlands.

MBDA will compete with HYDEF

But, MBDA is not alone; there is a competitive project called HYDEF, led by Sistemas de Misiles de España, a conglomerate of various Spanish defense companies. HYDIS2 is set to rival this project and involves the participation of Germany's Diehl Defense and Nordic company Nammo.

HYDEF and HYDIS2 are integral parts of the European Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) project known as "Twister." The project, which stands for Timely Warning and Interception with Space-based TheatER, is a collaborative effort among multiple nations to develop a hypersonic defense system for Europe.

During the Paris Air Show, Rainer Stockhammer, the team leader for "Twister" at MBDA, announced that HYDIS2 is moving into the concept phase. The program will explore three multistage interceptor architectures, including a potential air-breathing option similar to the company's existing "Meteor" air-to-air missile. Two of the architectures are three-stage: a conventional rocket-powered missile with a large booster and a two-stage weapon with a booster. At the end of the study, one of these options will be chosen for further development.

“We need to manage to come to a certain technology readiness level to put our nations in a position to start development in three years,” Stockhammer adds.

The final EDF program could cost billions

As part of the European effort to develop the "Twister" system, the hypersonic interceptor plays a crucial role. The EDF also supports an "Odin's Eye" project to develop an autonomous early-warning capability for Europe. This project will assist in defending against ballistic missiles and hypersonic threats. The study, which costs €7.8 million and lasts for 24 months, is spearheaded by OHB, a German satellite firm.

After conducting studies, one of the two missiles will be chosen for further development. The EDF is expected to partially fund the second phase of development, which could lead to the creation of prototype missiles by 2030. However, during the press conference in Paris in March, MBDA CEO Eric Beranger cautioned that the cost of a hypersonic system could be exorbitant, amounting to billions of dollars.

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