Fighting Hyper Sonic Cruise Missiles at the Speed of Light: The Role of 21st Century Dambusters


By Ed Timperlake

Operation Chastise was the brilliant merging of weapon research and engineering with the undaunted courage of Royal Air Force Number 617 Squadron, forevermore known as the Dambusters.

In order to attack the industrial might of Germany the RAF and a brilliant scientist worked together to develop a unique payload utility weapon  the “bouncing bomb.”

The engineering genius that provided a unique payload to an RAF Squadron attacking the heart of Germany with undaunted courage was Bernard Wallis;

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis CBE FRS RDI FRAeS (26 September 1887 – 30 October 1979), was an English scientist, engineer and inventor.

“He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the Royal Air Force in Operation Chastise (the “Dambusters” raid) to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II.

After the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe in 1939, Wallis saw a need for strategic bombing to destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war and he wrote a paper entitled “A Note on a Method of Attacking the Axis Powers”.

As often with the case of visionary leaders and inventors, institutional skepticism and inertia has to be overcome. That occurred with Barnes Wallis’s ideas but he refused to give up and the payload bouncing bomb “upkeep” was invented and tested over and over until it worked.

Fast forward to a 21stCentury design engineering team that is now advocating for an accelerated audition to the American way of war a Payload Utility function (PU)  which is  a crash program for Directed Energy laser payloads.

Wartime pressure accelerated  the right payload, a bouncing bomb, in the hands of warfighters to achieve remarkable results and is now history is repeating itself with new payloads to mitigate enemy threats.

The threat of both Russia and China rapidly testing Hypersonic Cruise Missiles and soon adding them to their fighting forces is upon us, right now today, not in the year 2030.

President Putin is brilliant as an Information Warrior and to use two complementary cliché’s in one sentence; he is continuing to punch above his weight while playing a weak hand very well.

UK F-35 Dambuster’s Squadron Patch

He has recently threatened a direct attack against the United States with nuclear weapons if we do not comply with his strategic approach to Europe and the West.

The Russian PR machine has kicked in and we have a recent you tube visit from a St. Petersburg choir highlighting a historical tune threatening such an event.

Notably, President Putin focused on the employment of nuclear tipped hypersonic cruise missiles launched from his navy’s submarines off of the East Coast of the United States.1

In effect, what Putin did was to sound “General Quarters” for a combat proven warfighting Navy to go on high alert.

The United States has now joined allies like Denmark which have been threatened by the Russians with the potential use of nuclear weapons against as part of normal coercive diplomacy.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Peoples republic of China is also strutting on the world stage in a very military provocative way with their high speed cruise missile programs.

The United States, Russia, and China are all rushing to field hypersonic weapons.

Hypersonic weapons travel much faster than traditional weapons: While many long range land attack missiles travels at subsonic speeds and attempt to fly below radar, hypersonic weapons would attempt to beat enemy defenses with pure speed.

This not only gives the enemy much less time to react but is also too fast for modern air defenses to shoot down–for now anyway.

Many, if not all modern air defense systems simply can’t intercept a missile traveling at Mach 5+.

There is a saying on the modern battlefield, that if you emit the wrong way you die.

I would like to add to that warning, that if an incoming weapon is an “air breather” it can be acquired and targeted in a Kill Web solution with current and near term payloads in development by the United States and its allies.

It is a shame that the UnderSecretary for Research and Engineering the Honorable Mike Griffin doesn’t understand the above point.

This research paper began at the 2019 Directed Energy Summit.

I asked the UnderSecretary of Defense the Honorable Mike Griffin at that conference: If war breaks out tomorrow how can we stop the HSCM threat?

He immediately went to his perceived hardest problem an ICBM hypersonic maneuver multi warhead threat to frame an answer.

However, when I asked him specifically to address an air-breathing HSCM, he framed his answer in similar fashion to the ICBM threat that because of the HSCM speed it was to hard a war fighting problem.

He mentioned AARAM and Aegis against slower moving cruise missiles, but not adequate for HSCM speeds.

Note in this Breaking Defense reporting, his merging of two threat issues into one “to hard” problem:

So how do we shoot down hypersonic missiles before we develop such directed energy weapons and sensors?

We don’t, Griffin said bluntly: We have to kill them on the launch pad.

“If war breaks out tomorrow, we’re probably not going to kill hypersonic boost glide missiles,” Griffin said.

“Existing air and missile defense systems are “very effective “are very effective against a threat moving slowly enough to give us time to acquire track, target, and deploy a shooter,” he said, but hypersonics just move too fast for current defenses to intercept.

Thankfully, visionary American military combat leaders are not waiting for the Honorable Mike Griffin’s potential elegant space solution.

Those commanders facing imminent threats are intellectually working inside the evolving technology of Combat Clouds, Kill Webs, and Sensor/Shooter platforms with a goal of no platform fighting alone where platforms can all be networked to fight at the speed of light.

The promise of advances in Artificial Intelligence are also beginning to be added to this evolving American way of war.

It is actually conceptually very simple: US and Allied fighting forces both tactically and strategically at all levels are striving to network the payload utility function of selecting the best warhead that can be either kinetic and/or” tron” as the combat situation commences.

Transmitting target acquisition and then target engagement information to distributed redundant secure combat platforms over great distance  can make the speed of Hyper Sonic Cruise Missiles (HSCM)a solvable problem.

If appropriate DOD R&E focus is supported conceptually to pull together existing technology and weapons systems then a threat mitigation way ahead is ready now and not waiting for a possible space solution in  2030.

Just like the need for accelerated development of weapon technology in WWII, the time is now to recognize that American scientists and engineers who refused to give up when faced with a potential career ending moment in the development of laser weapons simply refused to stop their research.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates killed all research on an Airborne Laser weapon and he based it on his cost calculations. Remember this is the same guy that spent $52 billion on 22,000 MRAPs left rusting in the Middle East or in storage with engines removed. Ultimately broken up on 25 September 2014.

Secretary of Defense Gates summarized fundamental concerns with the practicality of the program concept:

“I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense, Mr. Tiahrt, who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed. ..And if you were to operationalize this you would be looking at 10 to 20 747s, at a billion and a half dollars apiece, and $100 million a year to operate. And there’s nobody in uniform that I know who believes that this is a workable concept.”[19]

The Air Force did not request further funds for the Airborne Laser for 2010; Air Force Chief of Staff Schwartz has said that the system “does not reflect something that is operationally viable.”

Gates had ensured no opposition by firing Secretary Wynne and COS of the USAF General “Buzz” Mosley. This is the same Secretary of Defense who killed the “cold war” airplane, known as the F-22.

But some USAF Officers and their scientific and engineering partners did not stop; In fact, the did just the opposite — they created Directed Energy Summit

Recently, the fifth annual 2019 Directed Energy Summit was held.

It was co-sponsored by Booz Allen and theCenter for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Discussion at the DES focused on “the urgent need to acquire directed energy weapons to help counter significant existing and emerging threats.”

It must be recognized that “Fighting At the Speed of Light” means networking information flowing at the speed of light throughout Kill Webs that operate a payload utility function.

The ability to acquire and designate threats while engaging the best payload for a successful outcome is the payload utility function.

Payloads can be kinetic and “tron” depending on the need.

It is fortuitous that lasers go hot at the speed of light but they are still just subsumed in a “light speed’ engagement.

For example, if it means the survival of a Carrier Strike Group I doubt any fighting Admiral would not hesitate to employ a low yield Nuc kinetic warhead to stop incoming hypersonic threats.

Laser research and the need for rapid fielding of a new “tron” weapon in our inventory just came out of the 5thDE Summit.

Like the legend of The Phoenix, our warriors, scientists and engineers never gave up and their time is now.

At the DES, Henry “Trey” Obering III, an Executive Vice President and Directed Energy Lead at Booz Allen Hamilton and the former director of the Missile Defense Agency, argued for a 10-point plan to accelerate the effort for directed energy weapons.

  1. The Defense Department must scale up laser power and improve beam quality development. The pace of maturing these capabilities is not technology-limited – it is funding-limited. Therefore, we should increase directed energy funding to between $2 billion to $3 billion per year.
  2. We should also take further action to reduce the size, power, weight, and cost requirements of these weapons. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, for example, should establish and fund a separate program toward that end – and to focus broadly on improving laser weapon lethality. MDA laser programs should be fully funded to increase laser power levels for high-altitude and space-based applications.
  3. We must provide warfighters with tactical decision aids to ensure they know how and when to use these weapons. This will go far toward instilling confidence in our warfighters that these weapons will be effective in combat against multiple threats.
  4. While a tremendous amount of work has been done, we should also conduct further research to improve our understanding of laser lethality and reliability across an increasing range of weather and atmospheric conditions. This research should also focus on minimizing any collateral damage.
  5. We need to accelerate our acquisition of these capabilities. DoD takes more than 16 years, on the average, to bring new technologies from statement of need to deployment. But there are several examples of this timeline being dramatically shortened, such as the Navy’s Rapid Prototyping Experimentation and Demonstration program for mission-critical capabilities and the use of specialized acquisition authorities by the MDA. DoD should use such accelerated processes for directed energy development and deployment.
  6. DoD must signal a long-term commitment to lasers, so the industrial base will know there will be a market for its products in the coming years. In doing so, DoD should prepare, and encourage, the industrial base to support the rising need for first-, second-, and third-tier suppliers.
  7. DoD should fully fund existing tests at sea, on land, and in the air – and there are many. Navy projects, such as the Laser Weapons System aboard the USS Ponce, have already shown that lasers can shoot down drones and collect surveillance data at long range. Other higher-powered Navy lasers, such as the HELIOS system, are in development and will be on a surface combatant next year. Meanwhile, the Army has tested a 5-kilowatt laser mounted on a Stryker combat vehicle and aims to field-test a 50-kW Stryker-mounted laser in 2021, with a goal of fielding it by 2023. Plus, the Air Force’s SHiELD project is developing 50-kW air-based lasers to produce a fighter-compatible weapon for use by 2021.
  8. All parties involved in laser deployment should talk to each other. DoD needs to better articulate its requirements for deployable lasers. But also, the industrial base must interface better with DoD and its leadership to increase understanding of innovative laser weapon capabilities.
  9. We must also prioritize warfighter training. There is currently no established laser weapon training pipeline, and that’s because lasers have no formal programs of record. Once these are set up, training must follow. To assist in establishing such programs, we should encourage wargames and operational analysis to investigate and better articulate the battlefield benefits of lasers.
  • DoD should adapt command-and-control functions to address rapidly evolving threats, such as hypersonics, to reduce the engagement times of defensive systems. Very short engagement timelines will likely necessitate the incorporation of artificial intelligence capabilities to help the U.S. leverage the speed-of-light engagement that directed energy weapons offer.

These are the steps we can take to bring laser prototype systems to our warfighters.

Our brave men and women confront dangerous threats across all physical domains – land, air, sea, and space – and need nothing less than the world’s most promising new capabilities to protect our national security.

Our adversaries are not waiting to develop directed energy weapons.

Neither should we.

The US defense industry is ready now and into the future as a key R&E focus on fighting at the speed of light and it all began to come together over ten years ago with the creation of the F-35 global enterprise as the driver for 21st Century change, including industrial base changes .

And it should be noted that this generation’s Dambusters are key stakeholders and innovators in the F-35 global enterprise, and will operate off the world’s newest aircraft carrier.

These modern day Dambusters are joined at the hip with the US Navy and USMC, as they have initially trained at MCAS Beaufort, and both the Marines and the Navy are working closely with the stand up of the new UK carrier capability as well.

The learning curve to improve sensors, system capability and weapons carried quickly compared to building another airframe may be a new American way of industrial surging.

The American arsenal of democracy may be shifting from an industrial production line to a clean room and a computer lab as key shapers of competitive advantage.

The F-35B in the Perspective of Aviation History

For a report by Ed Timperlake, which takes a kill web approach to the defeat and attack mission against adversary forces using HSCM which highlights a key role for the F-35 in the overall effort, see the following:

Kill Web and HSCMs