Insight by Raytheon

New missile technology, threats forcing DoD to alter its approach to protecting the nation

Missile Defense Overview

In the last 10 years, we've seen significant advances in the technology our adversaries are fielding. Hypersonics are emerging as one of the biggest threats we have.

The Evolution of the Missile System

DoD’s entire infrastructure is going to have to evolve to deal with the very rapidly emerging hypersonic as well as cruise missile threats. I think the most important thing for everyone to realize, and I know that the Missile Defense Agency has bought into this, is we're going to have to take both an evolutionary and a revolutionary approach.

The Defense Department is knee deep into its review of its missile defense policy. Starting last summer, this first analysis of the current state of missile defense and where the capabilities need to go next should be done in time for the annual national defense strategy that is due out in early 2022.

The last time DoD took a hard look at its ability to defend the nation from missile threats and counter-capabilities was 2017 with a report being released in 2019. Experts say that strategy resulted in few, if any, changes to the current approach to missile defense.

The expectations that this new review will have a bigger impact on the current and future state of missile defense.

Arms Control Today, a non-partisan think tank, reported in June that the Biden administration plans to continue to build a new interceptor to counter long-range ballistic missile attacks.

The other change we can expect from this review, according to Vice Admiral Jon Hill, the director of Missile Defense Agency, is the review is looking at the entire threat space, not just intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from places like North Korea.

Other issues the review may address, according to experts, include protecting U.S. assets from hypersonic and cruise missiles as well as policy issues around acquisition, research and space.

Tay Fitzgerald, the vice president for strategic missile defense at Raytheon Missiles and Defense, said from a technology standpoint, it feels like the current strategy is a generation ago.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen significant advances in the technology our adversaries are fielding. Hypersonics are emerging as one of the biggest threats we have. Ballistic missiles, historically our biggest threat, were like throwing a football, they had a pretty predictable arc and were pretty easy to project where it was going to land. Hypersonics, on the other hand, are very, very fast moving and very highly maneuverable. So they’re much harder to detect and track in their course,” Fitzgerald said during the discussion The Future of Missile Defense sponsored by Raytheon Missiles and Defense. “We’ve had excellent discrimination capability. In other words, the ability to tell what a real target is relative to the countermeasure. That is not going to be adequate against the threats we’re seeing today. Addition to hypersonics, we’re seeing cruise missile threats. These are weapons that are able to evade our current sensor capability. We’re also seeing the ability to launch from a bunch of different domains, land, sea, even space so there are potential attacks from a lot of different sources and a lot of different capabilities that we haven’t dealt with before. So I would expect to see significant pivots in this review.”

The push to address hypersonics comes from the fact that near peer adversaries like Russia and China recently demonstrated these weapons. While the threat may not be imminent, DoD must prepare to have countermeasures for them in the next decade.

“We really need global persistent sensing. Whereas now we don’t have a uniform coverage, meaning we need to upgrade the sensors we have and also adding sensing capabilities from space,” Fitzgerald said. “More importantly, it’s not just having that network of sensors across the globe, but making sure they’re interoperable and that we’ve got command control between those sensors. That discussion is happening all the way from the very top echelons of the DoD and all the way down into industry.”

Fitzgerald said DoD’s current radar capabilities are good at detecting attacks from a long range, giving it time to launch countermeasures.

But these sensors are one dimensional and don’t do a good job detecting cruise missiles or possibly hypersonics.

“DoD’s entire infrastructure is going to have to evolve to deal with the very rapidly emerging hypersonic as well as cruise missile threats. I think the most important thing for everyone to realize, and I know that the Missile Defense Agency has bought into this, is we’re going to have to take both an evolutionary and a revolutionary approach,” she said. “Today we have some awesome sensing capability, transportable sensors with very, very good tracking discrimination and detection capability. We also have very capable sensors that are deployed at both land and sea. A great example of an evolutionary capability would be closing the fire control room around more of those sensors, more of those effectors today in a much more rapid manner. At the same time, we need to be have an eye to the future much more revolutionary technologies and part of what we’re doing to enable that is to make sure that we do our designs today is a digital engineering, open systems architecture, modular design. That way we can readily upgrade the hardware that we’re building today, instead of taking the 10-15, or even 20 year cycles to field new weaponry.”

She said Raytheon is investing in high power microwave capabilities so in the future, the hope is that DoD will able to take out all threats with a single shot.

“I think the most important thing is that the threats are changing. The technology and the application of that technology has to change with it, and there has to be some urgency around that change,” Fitzgerald said. “I think if we work in a collaborative manner across industry and with our allies, we can make those changes but they’re going to need to come quickly.”

Featured speakers

  • Tay Fitzgerald

    Vice President, Strategic Missile Defense, Raytheon Missiles & Defense

  • Jason Miller

    Executive Editor, Federal News Network