Complex Air Defense: Countering the Hypersonic Missile Threat





Hypersonic weapons combine the speed of ballistic missiles with the maneuverability and detectability challenges of cruise missiles, leaving little time to react. In the past five years, Russia, China, and others have accelerated their development of hypersonic missiles to threaten U.S. forces in the homeland and abroad. The current Ballistic Missile Defense System, largely equipped to contend with legacy ballistic missile threats, must be adapted to this challenge. The same characteristics that make hypersonic missiles attractive may also hold the key to defeating them. A hypersonic defense architecture should exploit hypersonic weapons’ unique vulnerabilities and employ new capabilities, including a space sensor layer, glide phase interceptor, and alternative kill mechanisms. These changes are not only necessary to mitigate the hypersonic threat but to defeat an emerging generation of maneuvering missiles and aerial threats.

This report is made possible by support from Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, and by general support to CSIS.

Tom Karako
Senior Fellow, International Security Program and Director, Missile Defense Project