Hypersonic Missile Defense Requires Advanced Solutions

Calendar icon 07-14-2022


SAIC's counter-hypersonics development support includes threat modeling and simulation, bolstered by cloud, digital engineering and advanced communications and computing technologies


Hypersonic weapons pose a major new threat to United States' national security around the world. Hypersonic missiles can move at five times the speed of sound and maneuver in flight, and they are emerging from adversarial nations. U.S. officials recently acknowledged Russia’s use of hypersonics in its invasion of Ukraine, and China's hypersonics capabilities are top of mind for allied forces operating in the Pacific. Defending against the fast and agile missiles, known as counter-hypersonics, requires an improved and layered defense architecture that includes advanced sensors in space, missile interceptors, directed energy weapons and non-kinetic methods. 

The Department of Defense is working on next-generation interceptors, which aim to strike and eliminate hypersonic missiles where they are most vulnerable — in their midcourse or glide phase. For example, DARPA’s Glide Breaker could come online in 2026, while the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing the Glide Phase Interceptor with a 2027-to-2028 timeline. They are part of a host of programs to evolve and upgrade the U.S. missile defense system and the DOD’s sensing, tracking and engagement architecture currently designed for ballistic missiles.

While the hypersonic interceptor programs are running in parallel, concurrent inter-agency projects to build an improved missile warning and tracking sensor layer are underway. The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command, with MDA and the Space Development Agency (SDA), is overseeing the next-generation overhead persistent infrared (Next Gen OPIR) program to develop resilient constellations of sensor satellites to detect, track and disseminate timely data on missile launches.

Providing support to answer important hypersonics questions

SAIC is supporting Space Systems Command and the Next Gen OPIR at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif. and at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle in the analysis and integration of the payloads for the satellites. SAIC is also working with MDA on contributions to counter-hypersonics.

Traditional defense against ballistic weapons has focused on defeating missiles while they are in their midcourse phase or terminal phase when they glide and descend to their targets. Hypersonic missiles present far higher complexity for glide- and terminal-phase defense because of their extreme speeds and ability to maneuver.

While MDA is addressing boost-phase and glide-phase capabilities, we focus our counter-hypersonics support for the agency with modeling and simulation of operational scenarios involving missile defeat as well as “left-of-launch” techniques.

Left-of-launch methods look to preemptively disrupt or destroy our adversaries’ hypersonic capabilities while missiles are still on the ground, since a long chain of infrastructure assets exists to send off a hypersonic weapon. We must also address alternative, non-kinetic kill mechanisms that hit at the source through cyber and electronic means to obviate the costs and risks of missile engagement.

“We support a lot of analyses and systems development for left-of-launch activities, where you strike the hypersonic launcher on the ground,” said Kenneth Running, SAIC’s director of engineering for Air Force and agencies. “Over the past five years, we have been doing a lot of counter-hypersonics analyses, as emerging threats transitioned away from ballistic and cruise missiles. For MDA, we completed an 18-month analysis-of-alternatives study that modeled nine classes of hypersonic interceptors and ran five billion Monte Carlo simulations, and reported the results.”

The analysis covered possible outcomes of scenarios involving different defense strategies and thousands of variables. MDA disseminated SAIC’s report to the Secretary of Defense and Congress, but the legislative and executive branches of the government will often turn to us directly for modeling and simulation support when they need to see the broad implications of emergent and urgent operational needs. Fortunately, not all of our "what-if" studies take a year or longer.

“We can be very future-looking at threats and countering solutions at the beginning of systems engineering lifecycles,” said Running. “Or, we often run analyses to support real-world and live events.”

A quick-response modeling task may be an hour-long exploration. A full parametric evaluation of a range of mission scenarios could take a few hours to get answers to questions such as “Where can this threat go and what can it do?" "How do we counter it, and where do we place our assets?" and "What will happen if this happens?” 

JADC2 could be key to left-of-launch counter-hypersonics

Left-of-launch missile defeat opportunities could open up further as the DOD overlays its joint all-domain command-and-control (JADC2) strategy on top of the hypersonic defense architecture. JADC2 initiatives to interconnect the right sensor to the right shooter with the right communication anywhere across air, land, sea, space and cyber domains would accelerate coordinated and decisive actions to deny adversaries the ability to strike with hypersonic weapons.

In end-to-end counter-hypersonics, JADC2 “can solve the left-through-launch piece,” said Running.

Our team of analysts, modeling and simulation engineers, mathematicians and data scientists leverage tools in SAIC’s digital engineering suite to rapidly visualize and test systems architectures and decision models, weighing their pros and cons. The digital engineering ecosystem runs on our high performance computing (HPC) resources on site and in our secure cloud that can expand to tens of thousands of CPUs for processing power.

We use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to bolster the mathematical techniques and run millions or billions of samples in helping customers understand how each architectural or strategic decision might gain one benefit and lose another, affect program risk and requirements, and influence the decision-making chain of events.

“Counter-hypersonics is a challenging mission, and SAIC is bringing a number of capabilities and technologies to bear. Modeling and simulation and digital engineering are part of those,” said Running. “AI/ML is baked into a lot of what we do, and then we have enablers like the cloud and HPC in order to generate the massive amount of compute runs.”

Whether it is from a long-term study or a quick-turn exercise, decision-makers walk out of SAIC's hypersonics analyses informed of strengths, disadvantages and opportunities, knowing how their hypersonic defense architectural decisions can impact outcomes and mission effectiveness.