A top U.S. commander wants to test technology that can better defend domestic targets
Russia recently attacked Kyiv with a cruise missile in a menacing demonstration of Moscow's ability to carry out a long-range strike against a metropolitan target.
This experiment, a proposed 2023 event called the Cruise Missile Defense-Homeland Kill Chain Demonstration, would combine existing technologies in an effort to better shield cities and critical infrastructure from cruise missiles.
Dealing with the threat of cruise missiles presents two especially difficult challenges, explains Patty-Jane Geller, a missile defense expert at the Heritage Foundation.
"Cruise missiles fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, which most of our sensors-both space- and land-based-are designed to detect. They also don't fly superfast." If a cruise missile is traveling over U.S. territory, she says, "How do we know it's not a domestic plane?" The second problem, Geller says, arises because cruise missiles can be armed with nonnuclear warheads.
Cruise missile defenses-and air defenses in general-consist of three main components: sensors that detect an incoming threat, shooters that attempt to knock it out of the air and battle management systems that act as the brains controlling the whole process.
The only domestic location currently protected by round-the-clock cruise missile defense is Washington, D.C. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Pentagon created this bespoke cruise missile defense capability as part of what is called the National Capital Region Integrated Air Defense System architecture.
VanHerck wants to work with the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA-a Department of Defense group that develops new capabilities to counter advanced threats-to build a broader cruise missile defense system that will be tailored for domestic operations by putting together modified versions of existing technologies.
The most consequential factor determining a cruise missile defense system's effectiveness is a sensor's radar range-which is heavily influenced by how high above the ground it sits.
For homeland cruise missile defense sensors, VanHerck specifically wants to demonstrate a tower-mounted radar that can detect an incoming missile's coordinates.
That could involve new twists on current tactics-such as debilitating an incoming cruise missile with a high-powered electromagnetic weapon or developing other alternatives to simply shooting a missile at a missile.