Defence Notes

PREMIUM: Confident MDA accelerates hypersonic defence effort

17th February 2021 - 17:23 GMT | by Jason Sherman

Glide Phase Interceptor could be fielded by the end of this decade as a DoD programme of record, if industry response is positive.

The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) intends to brief industry in March about its new Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) programme that aims to develop a sea-based counter-hypersonic weapon system by 2030.

This would peel years off previous plans to field a capability to defend against a new class of ultra-fast manoeuvring threats

The MDA had planned to award in a contract late 2020 for a Regional Glide Phase Weapon (RPGW) prototype, as the first step towards adding a new interceptor to the Aegis weapon system portfolio focused on defeating hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.

On 3 February, however, the agency announced it was scrapping the prototype project in favour of pivoting immediately to a programme of record.

At the time, the MDA stated that the newly designated GPI initiative ‘will be developed in phases to deliver increasing regional defensive capabilities to the US warfighter over time’.

The MDA budget for FY2021 includes $127 million for the former RGPW programme as part of an overall $272 million allocated for hypersonic defence.

‘The initial phase of GPI is expected to be available for fielding in the mid- to late-2020s, dependent on industry response,’ said MDA spokesman Mark Wright. ‘The original planned fielding date for RGPWS was the early 2030s.’

New-found confidence from the MDA to accelerate work on a counter-hypersonic capability follows four years of concept development, analysis and collaboration with other US agencies on hypersonic technology. 

In its early February announcement, the MDA stated that GPI will leverage information gained from RGPW, using the proven Aegis platform to provide regional hypersonic missile defence.

Wright said: ‘To develop and deliver GPI, MDA will leverage missile defence assets (interceptors, sensors, C2BMC [Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications]) in different domains to effectively defend against growing threats from regional ballistic, hypersonic, and cruise missiles.’

In January 2021, the DoD disclosed that an Aegis system in the Pacific Ocean demonstrated the ability to track a long-range hypersonic weapon during a non-intercept test executed in parallel with a March 2020 flight test of the Conventional Prompt Strike programme. This test saw a simulated Standard Missile-6 launched against an actual hypersonic glide body during a 2,000-mile (3,200km) flight.

The MDA has also monitored progress by DARPA in its work with Northrop Grumman in 2020 on Glide Breaker (pictured). This advanced technology development programme aims to develop components enabling a lightweight interceptor to defeat hypersonic boost-glide weapons at very long range.

And in this fast-developing environment, the MDA continues to encourage industry with five separate counter-hypersonic technology development efforts: two by Lockheed Martin; two by Raytheon and one by Boeing


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