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The Military

Do Hypersonic Missiles Make Defense Systems Obsolete? 365

Posted by Soulskill
from the harder-better-faster-stronger dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Diplomat's Zachary Keck wonders why the U.S. government is doubling down on missile defense systems even as hypersonic missiles threaten to render them obsolete. Keck notes that hypersonic missiles pose two distinct challenges to current missile defense systems. First, they travel far faster than the missiles the defense systems are designed to intercept. Second, they travel at lower altitudes and possess greater maneuverability than the missiles the current systems have been built to destroy. Nonetheless, the U.S. was planning on spending $2 billion a year on missile defense through 2017, and now the Pentagon is asking for an additional $4.5 billion over the next five years."
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Do Hypersonic Missiles Make Defense Systems Obsolete?

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  • by KermodeBear (738243) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:13PM (#46187921) Homepage

    Yes, there may be these incredible "Hypersonic" missiles, but only the people with the capability to build or purchase them will have those missiles. Everyone else will be using conventional sub-sonic missiles. Also consider the many, many missiles (hundreds of thousands? I don't know) that currently exist right now and will be used in the future.

    Today's anti-missile systems will be useful for many years to come.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:17PM (#46187989)

      You are in a pretty good place if the only missiles that can successfully attack you are hypersonic, since they would be very expensive to build and take a lot of engineering prowess to work reliably.

      Also how much of a payload can one missile really carry? Not much, good only for targeted strikes. But the more recent missile attacks we have seen have been more blanket attacks, like the Palestinian missiles constantly bombarding Israeli cities. Anything that can protect civilian populations from that kind of madness absolutely has a place.

      • by Jaysyn (203771)

        Also how much of a payload can one missile really carry? Not much, good only for targeted strikes.

        Yeah? I'm not sure exactly what kinds of missiles they are trying to protect against, but a MIRV ICBM is a missile too you know.

        • Yeah? I'm not sure exactly what kinds of missiles they are trying to protect against

          An ICBM would be one of them because you have such a long lead time between continents (even at hypersonic speeds) you can work an intercept of some kind.

          The "hypersonic missiles" being talked about are launched from relatively close range, and then hug the terrain to reach the target at hypersonic velocity.

      • The key word here is "reliably". Because the demonstrators (civilian AND military) I've read about have been as flaky as hell. Even from the Americans, who are incredibly good at building complex, reliable stuff.

        The hardware is operating so close to the limit that the materials and the physics will allow, that it takes something special to make anything even fly in the first place.

        • by icebike (68054)

          Also the claim of maneuverability simply can't be justified.

          Hypersonic missiles would tear themselves to shreds trying to maneuver at those speeds. Its not particularly hard to intercept a very fast object that you know can't make sharp turns.

      • by bhcompy (1877290)
        Not just that, but the most common thing overlooked in complaining about specific defense projects is that the science and lessons learned are applied to many more things in the future, military and civilian
      • Also how much of a payload can one missile really carry? Not much, good only for targeted strikes.

        I think a targeted strike would be the specific purpose of a hypersonic missile, or really any missile for that matter. It's probably also fair to assume that any nation with the capability of developing and fielding a hypersonic missile can also stick a nuclear warhead on it.

        • I think a targeted strike would be the specific purpose of a hypersonic missile, or really any missile for that matter.

          It's not though. As stated, many modern uses of missiles have been non-targeted blanket strikes to just randomly destroy buildings or people. That goes for Palestinian strikes, for Al-Qaeda in Iraq just trying to blow up a few things in U.S. bases (well OK mostly they were using mortars and not rockets, but the point is the same and mortars get closer to being rockets all the time).

          • It's not though. As stated, many modern uses of missiles have been non-targeted blanket strikes to just randomly destroy buildings or people. That goes for Palestinian strikes, for Al-Qaeda in Iraq just trying to blow up a few things in U.S. bases (well OK mostly they were using mortars and not rockets, but the point is the same and mortars get closer to being rockets all the time).

            You're confusing your terms, rockets and missiles are not the same thing, particularly in military terms [wikipedia.org]. The difference is guidance, rockets are not guided. Palestinians are firing rockets (essentially rocket-propelled mortars), not missiles. Therefore, all missiles by definition are for targeted strikes. Rockets are just point and shoot weapons. The Palestinians are trying to field a low-tech version of rocket artillery [wikipedia.org].

      • by srmalloy (263556)

        Also how much of a payload can one missile really carry? Not much, good only for targeted strikes.

        That depends on what your warhead/payload is. With a hypersonic missile to disperse it, how much territory could you effectively cover while dispersing, say, a hundred kilos of weaponized anthrax spores?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          None.
          The air friction would kill the spores.

    • by phayes (202222) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:19PM (#46188017) Homepage

      Add to that the targeting dilemma where missiles at that speed are practically blind. Hypervelocity missiles are good for "journalists" in order to sell paper but not so much against the US Navy.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        They may have difficulty hitting moving ships but port facilities and moored ships are vulnerable. Also, with a large enough warhead, say a small nuke, the hyper velocity missile only has to get close to put ships out of action. Ships are not the only target They can be used to take out command and control facilities, storage depots, staging areas, etc. If you can not stop the missiles front line troops may lose all support.

      • by Yakasha (42321)

        Add to that the targeting dilemma where missiles at that speed are practically blind. Hypervelocity missiles are good for "journalists" in order to sell paper but not so much against the US Navy.

        Wait, what?
        Are you really saying blind supersonic ordinance doesn't present a threat to the US Navy?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We also have to remember that anti missile systems will soon be laser based, meaning that said missiles won't be able to dodge them, unless they can go faster than the speed of light..

      • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:38PM (#46188229)

        A missile that can handle the heat of hyper velocity can probably handle a laser hit. It is also difficult to track and lock on to an object moving that fast. A hyper velocity missile with a little software to jink around may be able to evade the laser.

        • by Salgak1 (20136)
          That depends on the beam density. Concentrate a powerful-enough beam on a narrow-enough spot, and you get burnthrough, after which atmospheric dynamics should do the rest. I leave the problems of power and focus as things that research will eventually solve.
          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            I leave the problems of power and focus as things that research will eventually solve.

            Therefore hyper sonic missiles will eventually become obsolete. Until that time they will be effective. At that time better shielding may be invented to defeat the laser making them effective again.

      • Not quite true. The big problem with the ABL is maintaining target lock long enough for the laser to burn through.

        Unless the lasers are firing from a handful of targeting positions. It is a bitch to track in real time.

    • Conventional missiles have been supersonic for oh, 60 years or so now.

      But yeah, I agree, the question is a stupid one. No, missile defense isn't obsolete, it'll just have to evolve to handle faster targets. Dare I say it...it's an arms race, and always will be.

      • Conventional missiles have been supersonic for oh, 60 years or so now.

        Yeah. That's why we're talking about the new hypersonic missiles.

        It would be like saying "My Nissan GT-R is faster than a Ferrari 360, so I'm sure I can win a Formula 1 race."

    • by Bovius (1243040)

      I don't understand why we're still making kneepads. Kneepads are completely ineffective at protecting knees from hypersonic missiles, but spending on kneepads continues to rise. Kneepads are obsolete and we should be focusing our efforts on knee-mounted lasers to defend against this new hypersonic threat.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Today's anti-missile systems will be useful for many years to come.

      Are today's anti-missile systems useful? Or are they just meant for posturing? I remember during the first Gulf War that not a single PATRIOT missile shot down a SCUD. Is there anything better today?

    • Hypersonic missiles are mostly different from conventional, high mach number missiles for their operating height. they are the ultimate bombers or recon planes , not the ultimate missiles, since things like the SSN 22 sunburn [wikipedia.org] are operational now, and can go mach3+ at low altitudes.
      remember that in the last phases of the operational life of the SR 71 Blackbird [wikipedia.org], their payload was a high mach number drone.
      • by wagnerrp (1305589)

        Remember that in the last phases of the operational life of the SR 71 Blackbird [wikipedia.org], their payload was a high mach number drone.

        Not quite. That was in the last phases of its development life, and the idea was scrapped because they could not get supersonic separation to work reliably, resulting in the loss of airframes and pilots during testing.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Aren't ICBMs already hypersonic?

      So presumably they are refering to tactical stuff.

      I remember there was a missile around a few decades ago called Helstreak or Starstreak. It was an anti air and antitank weapon, laser guided.
      (it was in the game Gunship 2)
      Of course like any laser guided weapon, if you can take out the vehicle thats pointing the laser at you, the missile will miss.

      Speaking of missing, I will miss classic slashdot

  • And this is why... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:13PM (#46187925) Journal
    And this would be why the R&D types, especially Navy, have been pushing like mad to get higher output lasers without the clunkiness of the old chemical-powered ones...
    • by djupedal (584558)
      Please....the push is to be allowed a front seat at the money trough, nothing else matters.
      • by Yakasha (42321)

        Please....the push is to be allowed a front seat at the money trough, nothing else matters.

        While I admire your pessimism, I think you're a little off. The personality traits that help one last the 20-30 years in the military necessary to be promoted to a position to make those kinds of decisions do not normally include greed.
        I'm more inclined to believe their drive lies with "blowing shit up", and "America! Fuck ya!".

    • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:26PM (#46188093)

      And once the anti-missile lasers are well-established, there will be a push for faster-than-light missiles.

      And then of course, we will have the technology we need to explore other star systems.

      • Naw. They will just develop lasers to pop people from space. No difference than you using a magnifying glass on ants; only much faster. It would be like a hit-man sniping from orbit. Tinfoil hats may be in order.

        • Not lasers. Crowbars: they don't suffer from the optical distortion problems of lasers. Look up the history of "Project Thor" to understand the tremendous advantage of simply de-orbiting any long, narrow, dense objects from earth orbit.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2014 @03:10PM (#46188607)

        And then of course, we will have the technology we need to explore other star systems.

        ...and blow them the hell up!

    • Probably silly question: wouldn't the effectiveness of that be reduced by mirror-coating the missile? I'm aware mirrors aren't perfect and won't be perfect on a missile, but you wouldn't need to completely bounce all the energy away. As I understand it, we don't have a laser that can focus on and cook a normal missile in the air yet, if reflective coating doubled the time required for a laser, wouldn't that double the requirement for the laser?

      Googling didn't immediately bring up anything more than sho
  • by xevioso (598654) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:14PM (#46187927)

    So maybe it's because a lot of people's jobs rest on these missile defense systems being implemented?

    Also, I am curious how hypersonic weapons will fare against a ship equipped with either a Gauss cannon, or more importantly, a laser. Wouldn't both of these be an adequate defense against a hypersonic missle, if implemented properly?

    • Every defensive system takes time to operate, staring with detection, identification, classification, target selection, weapon / ammunition selection, engagement, assessment, and reengagement (if necessary). Hypersonic weapons really cut down on the amount of time you have to do that as well as make the actual engagement more difficult, and that is just based on speed. If you add any countermeasures, such a stealth technology or jamming it gets even harder. Think of the SR-71. It was never successfully

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Gauss cannon

      There is a lag between the time the shell is fired and the time the shell hits. That requires leading the missile. If the incoming missile jinks the outgoing shell will miss. To hit would require in flight tracking and guidance and even then misses would be likely.

      Laser

      Lasers are also non instantaneous as hey need time to burn through the missile. This requires precise tracking and fast beam manipulation. If the hyper velocity missile jinks well enough the laser energy will spread out and be ineffective. Also hy

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The other thing is, all these 'oh, but laser!' arguments assume the other guy is going to play nice and only attack one at a time, like a bad martial arts movie. Sure, maybe you can shoot down one missile heading your way, but what happens when there are five? ten? one hundred?

        You wouldn't want to fire a hundred missiles at a tank, but those hundred missiles would probably be much cheaper than replacing the aircraft carrier you just sank with them.

    • Well, "if implemented properly", any missile defense system would be adequate against any missile. But yeah, if they aren't putting money into developing anti-projectile lasers, then they're probably wasting time and money. Lasers could even protect against artillery or tank shells. If the army could field a tank that has a laser defense system then it would pretty much rule the battlefield, until it meets an energy weapon. Something like this [youtube.com] would make a tank pretty unstoppable if it could shoot down

  • Defense Gap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:15PM (#46187943)

    Because Hypersonic missiles are ridiculously expensive and none of the probable combatants in near to mid term future wars are likely to have them. Even after they become viable weapons, only advanced military forces like China or Russia will be able field them for quite a while. The US is not going to war with China or Russia any time soon. We need defense platforms that deal with realistic enemies, and they will use missile tech that these defense platforms are capable of deal with.

    Also, Beta sucks. Long live Classic!

    • by xelah (176252)

      The US is not going to war with China or Russia any time soon.

      Umm, I wouldn't wish to bet on that. And definitely not on the US needing to deter their militaries, especially China's. Think of Taiwan, the Japan/China disputes and Russia's tendency to invade states it thinks it ought to still own when they don't do what they're told.

      Still, it's obviously not the only threat.

  • missiles (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:15PM (#46187949)
    I don't know, can they shoot down beta?
  • Does anyone know why they can't use lasers to knock down these fast missiles? http://www.defense.gov/News/Ne... [defense.gov]
  • Hypersonic missiles (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It would be great if someone launched a hypersonic missile towards Beta.

  • First, maybe it would be good to have foreign policies such that there aren't a lot of people who want to shoot missiles at you.

    Second, Just because a certain missile defense system might not work against the most advanced missiles, doesn't mean it is ineffective against less advanced missiles. Maybe the investment should be considered in light of which countries' missiles you are concerned about shooting down.

    Third, while an insane country will shoot missiles at you even as they are starving, you sh
  • here's the thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:18PM (#46188003)

    If the enemy doesn't have good targets, these missiles don't accomplish much.

    According to Richard Clarke:

    As early as Sept. 12, 2001, Clarke says, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged bombing Iraq despite repeated assurances from intelligence officials that the threat emanated from Afghanistan.

    "Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq," Clarke said on Sunday's 60 Minutes. "I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.' "

  • by FUCK BETA, FUCK DICE (3529333) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:19PM (#46188013)
    Betas? We don't need no stinkin' betas! FUCK BETA
  • by zbobet2012 (1025836) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:20PM (#46188021)
    The simple answer is no, because not everyone can afford them. Even more importantly, those who can generally already had the ability to overwhelm any missile defense system via sheer numbers of warheads. The US really isn't as concerned about people like Russia and China attacking us, they have a very vested interest in stability.What the US is concerned about is a country like North Korea nuking Japan or the US West Coast. Or really even having the ability to do so, as it stop almost all US influence in the area. That is what missile defense systems are designed and deployed for.
  • by benjfowler (239527) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:21PM (#46188033)

    This happens a lot. Note that the US loves supercarriers too and keep building them, even while more rational people know that they'll be sent to the bottom within minutes of an high-intensity, high-tech war breaking out. The Chinese allegedly have ballistic missiles with reentry vehicles which can find and hit moving ships.

    Every major war has started with equipment, tactics, strategy inherited from the last war. The start of WWI, with light horsemen charging into, and getting cut up by, machine gun fire. The officers had their ideas -- and that was _it_.

    The reasons for all this are complex, but in a nutshell, it's got to do with inertia, hubris, egos, and defence pork.

    The US is lucky in a sense -- despite all this, their technology development pipeline is very deep, their resources are huge, and they are culturally adapted to change in a way that most other cultures are not.

    • Note that the US loves supercarriers too and keep building them, even while more rational people know that they'll be sent to the bottom within minutes of an high-intensity, high-tech war breaking out.

      This is harder than you think........

    • by Barbarian (9467)

      Carriers are not for fighting a major power, they are for keeping the provinces in line.

    • Note that the US loves supercarriers too and keep building them, even while more rational people know that they'll be sent to the bottom within minutes of an high-intensity, high-tech war breaking out. The Chinese allegedly have ballistic missiles with reentry vehicles which can find and hit moving ships.

      They haven't quite gone out of style yet. The Chinese are building aircraft carriers as well, and are on their way to having four of them. The first Chinese aircraft carrier battle group did a demonstration cruise not long ago. The Indians are building up their carrier fleet as well. The British navy is building two new large carriers.

      The Chinese allegedly have ballistic missiles with reentry vehicles which can find and hit moving ships.

      The US Aegis air defense system typically found on destroyers has a well proven anti-ballistic missile capability.

      The start of WWI, with light horsemen charging into, and getting cut up by, machine gun fire. The officers had their ideas -- and that was _it_.

      On the Western front in WW 1 cavalry and mounted infantry

  • Its an arms race. Yes, hypersonic missiles will render obsolete different types of interceptors. However, hypersonic missiles tend to have shorter ranges as they burn their fuel less efficiently. As as result, missile interceptors at longer range will probably be effective. Closer in... Lasers... or something else fast enough to deal with such a missile.

    Its all a tug of war.

    First thing's first... we need to render all legacy systems obsolete. The current missile defense system should be able to protect us f

  • by Chas (5144)

    Pentagon: What?

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:22PM (#46188051) Homepage

    Experience in the US Navy here, specifically the targeting and tracking systems. But you don't have to know what I know to know what R2D2 with a hard-on does. It is missile defense and quite effective. It works by sending projectiles at the incoming missile to disrupt it.

    Anti-aircraft is a similar notion -- send up fireworks which spread particles into the air in front of aircraft and hope it interferes with the planes. A missile defense system doesn't "chase" missiles, it is launched in front of them. They then explode in front of them in hopes of disrupting them in some way. Advanced systems, in my mind, would be a CWIS at the end of a missile system. It's not hard to imagine.

    • by swb (14022)

      What's the tracking distance of Phalanx?

      My only concern with CIWS is how far out it can track a ground-hugging hypersonic missile. You don't have a lot of time to engage it when you can't see it over the horizon. Even at 60 ft elevation on a ship, the horizon is only 8-9 miles away.

      That gives you, what, maybe 5-6 seconds from detection at the horizon to impact. You'd have to have your Vulcan firing 2 seconds after detection to hit it.

  • This sounds like the Bomber Gap [wikipedia.org] or the Missle Gap [wikipedia.org] all over again.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday February 07, 2014 @02:29PM (#46188125)
    There is no such thing as an obsolete defensive system (or weapon, for that matter). A knife or a fist or even a wooden stick at the right time in the right place is worth more than billions of dollars of expensive hardware.
    • Absolutely correct. That's why we need to drop a few hundred million on reviving the horse cavalry and wood sailing ships.

      Just ignore the pork and campaign contributions. It's DEFENSE, so we need it.

  • Throw more money we don't have at the problem and maybe it'll go away.
  • The same kind of overexcited journalists makes such assumptions. "Oh, the new shiny will be everywhere now!"

    By the way - take your time to read comments while they last - many good commenters (called "audience" by /. owners) will go away when Beta is forcefully rammed down our eyes.

  • The offense part of missile technology is mostly based on the science of rocketry and the mechanics of flight - air flows, material sciences etc.

    The defensive part of anti-missile technology is mostly based on IT - detecting what is a threat and what is not a threat and targeting the threats. It also needs the same speed you developed above.

    So, which do you think develops quicker - the missile technology or the IT technology? My bet is on IT. It's a newer science with an established higher rate of d

  • ...counter ballistic missiles over the past two decades and it wasn't designed for this either (and, by the way, they're REALLY hypersonic...)

    They will continue to be upgraded for ABM capabilities as well.

    Is there some reason why hyper sonic low level missiles couldn't be adapted to either? BTW, the Navy is spending a lot of time and money on lasers for this very reason.

  • As I have learned on others on /. the answer to a yes/no question on /. will be no. Others are bring up the reasons no for this question, cost, limited use, politics, but the answer will be NO.
  • Keep in mind that the same organizations that invented the Missile Defence System also invented the hypersonic missile. What makes anybody so sure that hypersonic interceptors are not already in the works?

    Also, hypersonic technology is hard. Do the math. Its a lot harder than either politicians or reporters might think. Just because somebody can test a vehicle for a short distance (ie tens of seconds) does not mean it is a viable solution to anything. Making one that actually flies for any duration and

  • by sugarmatic (232216) on Friday February 07, 2014 @06:11PM (#46190307)

    ...and asymmetric, then the only legitimate targets for an adversary become the public citizens that fund the efforts.

    If no military response can ever be effective, it is the only thing left. We call it terrorism now, but it will be business as usual in the near future. Drones bombing your weddings?

    Bomb their weddings. And schools and anything else.

    The only limits to empire are consequences. When an empire can inflict with no fear of retribution to overtly military assets, other targets of retribution will be placed at risk.

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce

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