Shaping a Way Ahead to Deal with Hypersonic High Speed Cruise Missiles


By Ed Timperlake

My initial 2011 paper “winning Air/Sea Battle” only looked at F-35 as early warning platform 1

Essentially, I focused in that paper on the F-35s as providing a “heads up” to fleet surface ships about “incoming” missiles threats but in the non-stealth mode the F-35 can carry more ordinance than F/A-18 or F-16.

So instead of just a “heads-up” to the NORTHCOM/NORAD Commander or an Admiral commanding a  Carrier Strike Group to make ready American shore defenses or a fleet for close in defensive measures, why can’t an F-35 carry anti-HSCM designed ordinance to kill HSCMs in flight?

Design a missile that can link to the fusion cockpit for an immediate fire control solution and launch a missile with an appropriate warhead to take down an incoming HSCM.

In an email exchange with Dr. Lewis, he raised a significant challenge which needs to be addressed in R and D and the shaping of effective con-ops.

“The biggest threat I see is actually a swarm attack of high-speed incoming, that might overwhelm any solution. The Chinese have been rather open about this tactic.” 

“It is very fair to say it is truly a wicked problem, but he also adds; “the good news is there are indeed solutions that will stop them.”

“The one point in favor of the HSCM intercept to a kill shot is the need to just get in front of the missile with something that abruptly and directly disrupts its forward motion. 

“The key to defeating it is to make it beat itself to death– the old joke about you only have to be close in horseshoes and hand grenades applies.”

Again quoting Dr. Mark Lewis from that email exchange:

“One method of stopping them simple kinetic will be effective, with the challenge that a high-speed maneuvering missile will be rather hard to catch with dumb ordnance. 

“And with a rapid closing speed, the window for that kill chain is of course small.

“There are other very promising options as well.

“Stability and control of a hypersonic craft is a key element. The DARPA HTV-2 failed twice due to control losses, something that the Air Force warned DARPA about ahead of time. 

“In the case of HTV-2 flight 1, the loss occurred due to yaw-roll coupling; essentially, the vehicle developed a small asymmetry, began to yaw, and corrective control action caused it to roll out of limit. 

“That was a case of bad design, but also an example of how easy it is to mess with these craft. 

“HTV-2’s second flight was lost because an important protection system failed again making it uncontrollable.

“I can’t help drawing an analogy to the old German V-1’s, that could be disabled by flying alongside in a fighter and hitting their wing tips. The resulting roll made them unstable!

“The third flight of X-51, where a fin broke off the cruise vehicle during solid rocket boost, and when it separated from the solid motor (at Mach 4.8) it almost immediately lost control. So when you are flying at hypersonic (or even supersonic speeds) and take even minor damage, survival is unlikely. 

“Coincidentally, and as a funny historical quirk, there is a pretty long list of hypersonic programs that have been lost due to fin failures completely unrelated to the hypersonic portion of the flight: X-43 first flight, the Australian HyShot first flight, and now most recently, AHW’s second flight. 

“That last one is especially painful; the booster lost a fin a few inches above the launch pad due to an entangled thermal blanket.

A hypersonic missile must travel between Mach 5 and Mach 10, or 3,840–7,680 miles per hour in order to be considered hypersonic. 

One should think a mile a second.

By comparison, a current missile AA missile, the AIM-120 has the characteristics seen in the graphic to the left (credit Wiki).

Thus, there is a speed differential of between 1 and 6 Mach and also the HSCMs are also in flight, the intercept missiles are at a standing start.

The first look at intercepting a HSCM inbound against the fleet is one of the first verbal math problem we all had in Algebra 1-“A train leaves a station going 50 mph… Another train leaves it’s station going 80 mph.. etc etc.”

The logic of that example is that both HSCM and intercept missile are on the “same track” and a parallel track for a perfect “face-shot.”

However, the crossing angle to intercept may be much more significant, say for example an F-35 flying on a heading of 090 and the pilot’s cockpit’s fusion display picks up a HSCM coming at the Fleet heading 180 and the closes point of approach for the physical passing of the F-35 on station and HSCM for intercept is offset by say 30 miles and at a different altitude.

The F-35 sensor shooter for an example could be 90 degrees off the nose for an intercept vector and also off set by some miles and altitude from the physical closes point of approach, this is a very hard shot.

The F-35 at best can try to point and shoot with the missile arming and independently maneuvering but having been initially launched many degrees off the aircraft’s initial route of flight.

The challenge is that at some point in space and time, the kill missile must get in front of the HSCM. 

It is not necessary to hit a bullet with a bullet. 

With the current significant Mach differential shown above a conventional missile cannot run down a HSCM. 

With focused R&D perhaps a future hypersonic-interceptor missile is possible but in this example I am using the current art of the possible and assuming a +6 Mach advantage given to the HSCM and it is already in flight while interceptor missile is on the rail at the start.

Therefore, detection and reaction time for launch and missile light-off the intercept angle for the missile altitude differential make time and distance of flight against HSCM everything. 

At around 88 miles per minute incoming, depending on altitude it is a very hard problem.

The first issue is simply just getting a missile off an F-35 in the time of calculation for sensing something approaching at a high rate of speed.

Using the CNO’s formula heat=sensing, an F-35 can see something moving very fast at a distance.

How far away is one key BUT not a showstopper.

Because if the F-35 can sense at a whatever distance it is reacting electronically at the speed of light and there is the possibility of doing something about it.

Slaving an immediate launch fire-control solution from the F-35 fusion cockpit sensed HSCM route of flight vector to an interceptor missile loaded on the aircraft hardpoints is one way.

But just as significant the F-35 sensor can off load the kill shot to another F-35 with a better chance.

To have any chance of success the launching F-35 has to have a certain head on aspect – if the HSCM is beyond the wing-line the engagement is lost at first detection. 

The kill-shot game for that one F-35 in launching a counter-missile is already be over.

But now think of a 21st Century “chainsaw” as a solution set and a way ahead.

The USN strike commander is currently using F/A-18s to refuel F/A-18s. Since stealth in not an issue against an HSCM swarming missile attack, a mix of F-35s with F/A-18 tanking assets can put as many F-35s on a combat air patrol station as far away from the surface fleet as possible for early detection. That effort can then feed-back for defense in depth combat engagements.

Against even a Mach 10 threat the F-35 data linked information dominance sensor can off load at the speed of light the incoming track of swarming inbound HSCM threats to other F-35s standing CAP right over the Fleet.

Additionally, all USN combat platforms can also light up; AEGIS ships, Growlers, E-2 Hawkeyes and other close in defensive combat weapon systems.

Additionally, the Ford CVN-78 has been specifically designed with an area on the flight deck to configure the air wing aircraft quickly and efficiently with the appropriate ordinance for the appropriate mission.

In alternating between offensive strikes, using active or passive stealth with weapons in a weapons bay or non-stealth with a significant weapons load, the combat ordinance on an F-35 can be configured quickly.

As the combat situation dictates the defensive requirements of loading anti-HSCM missiles as stated above can also be done quickly. USN ship design teams working on the CVN-78 figured this all out; switching ordinance and/or reloading. 

It is no small issue; the Japanese carriers were sunk at the battle of Midway because they were caught in an arming, de-arming, arming cycle. From that moment forward they were going to lose the war.

The challenge for the R&D community is to immediately give a lot of thought and research on what type of ordinance, missiles and warheads are best to defeat a HSCM. 

The challenge for strategic planning is to consider a return “back to the future” and establishing an East Coast Air Defense string of bases for the F-35A/B/C.

F-35 wide area sensing targeting and mapping capability against, air -breathing HSCM, enemy aircraft and  surface ships is beyond excellent. 

They can fulfill the target acquisition requirement  of a Payload Utility function.

“The difference between a good and great officer is about ten seconds”. Admiral Burke. 

The US Navy now has many great officers moving in the air at sea and under the ocean surface at light speed sensing  acting and if necessary killing.  

If F-35s are stationed to stand air defense alert in a  21st Century “Cold War basing” con-ops  from Otis ANG Base to NAS Pax River, (or Quantico air field)  Langley field, NAS Oceana, MCAS Beaufort  and NAS Key West (Bocha Chica) then appropriately networked to other “kill shot” platforms both at sea and Army ADA we might survive an attempted first strike. 

If Putin and the Russian military saw this type of preparedness they might always hesitate. 

Even if a Russian cruise missile sub gets off a shot it is dead dead dead because the F-35, P-8 and Triton will know exactly where it is on launch and can deliver an effective payload for its defeat and provide other options as well. 

This is the ninth piece in our series on the response to Putin’s escalatory rhetoric and force structure planning with regard to threatening the US with sub strikes using high speed hypersonic missiles.