The Trump Administration is pursuing a series of secret military space projects that collectively will cost tens of billions of dollars. At least one of those projects is too big to hide: a Space Sensor Layer that would place hundreds of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) to track hostile hypersonic missiles, and many ballistic threats too.
The Pentagon has been working for decades on methods of intercepting ballistic missiles aimed at U.S. forward-deployed forces, overseas allies, and the American homeland. Longer-range missiles typically are harder to intercept than shorter-range missiles because they move faster, and the ones with intercontinental reach are usually equipped with penetration aids (like decoys) to elude defenders.
What all ballistic missiles have in common, though, is that they follow a stable trajectory that makes their approximate destination easy to estimate. Now a new danger has arisen that threatens to negate the huge investment Washington has made in missile defenses: hypersonic missiles that glide through the atmosphere and maneuver unpredictably at speeds of a mile per second or faster.
Because longer-range ballistic missiles often move faster than the hypersonic systems that Russia and China are developing, the Pentagon already has interceptor systems that potentially could destroy them. What it lacks is a sensor network for tracking the missiles and guiding interceptors to their vicinity.
That’s why the Space Sensor Layer is vital. The current approach to tracking ballistic missiles is for space-based infrared satellites in geosynchronous orbit to detect launches, and then cue terrestrial radar systems to follow them through their trajectories. But that won’t work with hypersonic glide weapons because they fly too low—generally within the atmosphere. Due to the curvature of the earth, surface radars won’t see them coming until they are only seconds away. (end of excerpt)
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