The U.S. Defense Department on Monday announced two contracts worth $1.3 billion for the fielding of satellites to better detect hypersonic missile threats posed by Russia and China, with deployment to begin in April 2025.
The satellites are designed to track not only missile launches but also hypersonic maneuvering vehicles. Historically, the United States has not flown such satellites, according to Derek Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency.
"Primarily Russia and China have been developing and testing hypersonic glide vehicles -- these advanced missiles that are extremely maneuverable. And so these satellites are specifically designed to go after that next generation version of threats out there," he told reporters.
Hypersonic weapons are designed to travel at more than five times the speed of sound. Detection and defense against them is believed to be challenging because they can maneuver en route to the target and fly at lower altitudes than conventional ballistic missiles, according to experts.
The agency awarded the agreements to two American companies -- L3Harris Technologies Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. -- which will deliver a total of 28 satellites that will enable missile tracking from low-Earth orbit.