Trump vows to boost defense against hypersonic, cruise missiles
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Trump vows to boost defense against hypersonic, cruise missiles

Washington plans to invest in technology to protect against growing threat of weapons, including space-based sensors for interceptor system

US President Donald Trump speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2019 (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2019 (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to boost America’s missile defense systems, including by investing in technology to protect against the growing threat of hypersonic weapons and cruise missiles.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Trump unveiled the Missile Defense Review, a long-awaited analysis of the defensive network of US interceptors that are designed to shoot down an incoming ballistic missile.

Top among the concerns highlighted in the review is the speed at which rivals, particularly China and Russia, are pushing ahead with hypersonic missiles, which can thwart traditional defense systems.

“The US will now adjust its posture to defend against any missile strikes including cruise and hypersonic missiles,” Trump told the military audience.

“We will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers or even from powers that make a mistake. It won’t happen, regardless of the missile type or geographic origins of the attack.”

Flying at low altitude and at many times the speed of sound, hypersonics are able to change direction and don’t follow a ballistic arc, so are much harder to track and cannot currently be intercepted.

As a result, the Pentagon is urgently looking at ways to enhance its ability to track hypersonic missiles, primarily by using existing sensors that are deployed in space.

“These new technologies produce new threats, and these threats are harder to see, harder to track and harder to defeat,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said.

“To our competitors: we see what you are doing and we are taking action.”

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Sunday, March 11, 2018, a Russia’s Kinzhal hypersonic missile flies during a test in southern Russia (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, File)

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month boasted of a new hypersonic missile that could fly at about 20,500 miles (33,000 kilometers) per hour and is unstoppable.

While Trump blasted Iran for developing missile technology, he did not mention Russia or North Korea.

Pyongyang has developed a ballistic missile arsenal now capable of hitting the United States.

Trump ordered the missile defense review in 2017, amid heightened tensions with Pyongyang over its nuclear program — the first such review of America’s ballistic defenses since 2010.

But Trump has since met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in a bid to end the crisis, and he was expected to welcome a top North Korean official in Washington on Friday.

Still, the review itself stresses that North Korea is “an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant.”

Missiles in space

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which conducted the review, said it would study the feasibility of creating a space-based interceptor system, in which an orbiting craft of some sort would be equipped with missiles that could destroy an incoming warhead while it was in space.

his Dec. 10, 2018, file photo, provided by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), shows the launch of the U.S. military’s land-based Aegis missile defense testing system, that later intercepted an intermediate range ballistic missile, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. (Mark Wright/Missile Defense Agency via AP)

Another focus for the MDA will be developing ways to knock out a ballistic missile immediately after it has launched.

Currently, ground-based anti-missile technologies focus on intercepting warheads while they are in the “midcourse” phase, flying through space.

By attacking the missiles while they are still in their slow-moving “boost phase” at launch, the MDA could add a new layer of defense for America and its allies.

The F-35 Lightning II during a refueling test near the Patuxent River in Maryland on September 5, 2014. (Layne Laughter/Lockheed Martin)

One way of doing this could be by adding a new type of missile to F-35 stealth fighters patrolling near a suspected launch site, such as in a hypothetical conflict with North Korea, the MDA said.

“Intercepting offensive missiles in their boost phase would increase the likelihood of successfully countering missile threats, complicate an aggressor’s attack calculus… and reduce the number of midcourse or terminal active defense interceptors needed to destroy the adversary’s remaining offensive missiles,” the MDA said.

The MDA is also looking at ways of boosting its “directed energy” — or laser — capabilities to take out ballistic missiles.

The review was due to be released last year, but its publication saw repeated delays.

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