America’s hypersonic missile shield is beginning to appear, frustratingly for China

China and its new DF-27 hypersonic ‘aircraft carrier killer’ missiles have been a talking point recently, especially among Western military men who want aircraft carriers to be declared obsolete. While the US is rightfully concerned at this evolving threat, the nation that sent men to the moon is more than capable of rising to meet the threat to its ships and, thankfully for the rest of us, to the world order.

How is the US staying on top as a military giant and a science powerhouse? The recent launch of six super-advanced satellites, including the first of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Sensor System (HBTSS) constellation, is a prime example.

One of the problems presented by “boost glide” type hypersonic warheads is that they do not rise high into space like a conventional ballistic weapon. This means that ground based, or even airborne, radars do not detect incoming hypersonics until they are comparatively close.

But HTBSS satellites in orbit will detect future hypersonic DF-27s soon after launch, giving US defences time to respond. This proactive approach, backed by resources that most nations can only dream of, does more than address the immediate challenges: it’s shaping the very future of how warfare and defence technology evolve. The US is showcasing its dominance as a technological superpower.

Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the new satellites are designed to track high-speed threats, including manoeuvring hypersonic weapons moving inside the atmosphere at faster than Mach 5. Positioned in low Earth orbit (LEO), these satellites enhance the US’s ability to detect, track, and respond to missile launches with unprecedented speed and accuracy. Trust me, this is a huge deal.

This initiative is a cornerstone of the broader US Space Force plan to bolster missile warning and tracking capabilities in the face of increasing threats from adversaries like China and Russia.

Parallel to its advancements in space-based tracking, the US is revolutionising its approach to missile defence with the development of Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) capabilities. This programme, driven by defence industry giants Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies, focuses on intercepting hypersonic missiles during their glide phase — potentially the most vulnerable part of their trajectory. GPI is designed to launch from US Navy surface warships, integrating seamlessly with the Aegis combat system carried by US cruisers and destroyers. Essentially, it’ll be another new weapon for the already potent Aegis ships, which can already knock down targets in space and ones in terminal descent.

An SM-3 interceptor is test fired from US cruiser Lake Erie. An SM-3 from the Lake Erie brought down a malfuctioning US spy satellite orbiting above the Pacific in 2008

An SM-3 interceptor is test fired from US cruiser Lake Erie. An SM-3 from the Lake Erie brought down a malfuctioning US spy satellite orbiting above the Pacific in 2008 – US Navy/AP

The strategic importance of GPI cannot be overstated. As hypersonic missiles like China’s DF-27 pose a sophisticated threat with their ability to evade traditional missile defences, the US is countering with innovation, as it often does best. This ability represents a critical component of the US’s layered defence strategy, offering a solution to intercept hypersonic threats before they can reach their targets.

No other nation can do this at the speed, scale and complexity the US can.

As the dragon sharpens its claws with the development of the DF-27 hypersonic missile, the United States sends a clear message to Beijing. When China’s much-vaunted DF-27 is ready to deploy operationally and in meaningful numbers, the US Navy’s warships and the carrier groups they belong to will be more than capable of neutralising the threat, rendering the missile little more than a paper tiger.

The Pentagon’s readiness to “swat” the DF-27 out of the sky is a symbol of American ingenuity, but it’s also more than that; it is also a reassurance to allies like the UK that plan on deploying carrier groups to China’s backyard.

Washington’s message to Beijing is unequivocal: the US stands ready to counter any threats, ensuring that its warships, and by extension, its global influence, remain unchallenged, no matter how many new missiles Xi Jinping develops.

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