The Pentagon has announced that it will spend $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars to establish satellites that will make it easier to track hypersonic missile threats. Two new contracts have been issued, with plans to put the tracking and detection systems in orbit by 2025.
The director of the Space Development Agency, Derek Tournear, said the main objective is to produce 28 satellites that will help protect the U.S. from increasing threats from Russia and China.
Russia and China have developed and tested hypersonic missiles that are more difficult to track due to their greater flight maneuverability, Tournear told Pentagon reporters Monday.
“These satellites are specifically designed to go after that next generation version of threats out there so that we can detect and track these hypersonic maneuvering vehicles and predict their impact point,” he said.
Hypersonic weapons travel faster than the speed of light. According to the Washington Post, these weapons can carry a nuclear warhead and travel so quickly that they can change the surrounding air molecules.
These weapons are also at the center of escalating competition between the U.S., Russia, and China. Russia claims it used hypersonic weapons for the first time in combat in Ukraine. Although the specific weapon Russia used travels at hypersonic speeds, the Kinzhal missile does not fall into the category of hypersonic weapons.
Tournear stated that the United States has never flown satellites designed to track hypersonic weapons.
“We have limited capability to do that tracking aspect,” he said but added, “Clearly, we don’t have zero capability to do tracking.”
The two teams contracted by the Pentagon were led by L3Harris Technologies Inc. of Melbourne, Florida, and the Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems of Redondo Beach, California.
The program’s total cost, including ground controls, launches, and mission support, will be $2.5 billion in taxpayer dollars. L3Harris plans to construct 14 satellites at the cost of $700 million; Northrop will make another 14 satellites for $617 million.
Tournear specified that the program represents a shift for the U.S. towards a more advanced satellite system. Additionally, he said that the 28 planned satellites would serve as a foundation for 54 future satellites.