This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

The Pentagon plans to create a multi-layer system of sensors for tracking hypersonic missiles, but a new report released by the CSIS calls out some possible issues. The report went over the plan’s feasibility and concluded that while ambitious, such a system would likely suffer from some severe issues given the nature of hypersonic missiles.

The report “Getting on Track: Space and Airborne Sensors for Hypersonic Missile Defense” claims that the main issue is that hypersonic missiles fly at a minimum of five times the speed of sound and take unpredictable flight paths- two issues that make them extremely difficult to track.

According to Interesting Engineering, the DoD invests a lot of money in space sensors as a key element of its hypersonic defense architecture. Thomas Karako, the CSIS Missile Defense Project director, said that many knowledgeable individuals are working on this complex issue and that the report means to open the conversation and alert people about potential problems.

The report states that while infrared and electro-optical sensing technologies are mature, tracking hypersonic missiles is far more challenging than detecting traditional ballistic missiles. Is further explained that distinguishing a hypersonic heat signature against the Earth’s background is extremely difficult, like “tracking a slightly brighter candle in a sea of candles, requiring extensive testing to validate.”

The report also highlights sensor fusion as a crucial process in combining data from multiple sensors to create a more accurate and complete picture of the environment. This process is similar to the challenge of autonomous vehicles, which rely on various sensors to navigate their surroundings.

The study suggests that to ensure coverage of the Indo-Pacific region, where Chinese hypersonic missiles might be deployed, the Pentagon should consider other tradeoffs. The DoD’s planned multi-orbit architecture includes satellites in low, medium, geostationary, and highly elliptical orbit.