Tucson-based Raytheon Missiles & Defense is one of three companies picked to develop concepts for the nation’s first interceptor designed to destroy a new generation of super-fast missiles.
Raytheon said the weapon, called Glide Phase Interceptor or GPI, will defeat rapidly evolving hypersonic missiles — weapons that travel more than five times the speed of sound and maneuver rapidly in flight.
The Missile Defense Agency awarded prototyping contracts of varying amounts to Raytheon and rivals Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to develop the GPI, as the Pentagon looks to speed the development of both offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities in response to aggressive hypersonics test programs mounted by China and Russia.
Raytheon was awarded a contract with a total value of just under $20 million, with $8 million initially obligated to develop its GPI concept in Tucson and Huntsville, Alabama, with completion of the contract expected in September 2022, according to a Pentagon contract notice.
Lockheed won a contract worth a similar amount to develop its concept and Northrop was awarded about $19 million for similar prototyping work.
While many details of the GPI prototypes remain secret, a Raytheon executive said the company is building on knowledge gained from producing anti-ballistic missiles to meet future hypersonic threats.
Unlike ballistic missiles, which fly in an arcing trajectory through space, hypersonic missiles maneuver aerodynamically within the earth’s atmosphere during most of their flight.
“GPI’s speed, ability to withstand extreme heat, and maneuverability will make it the first missile designed to engage this advanced threat,” said Tay Fitzgerald, vice president of Strategic Missile Defense.
The GPI is designed to intercept hypersonic weapons in the glide phase of flight, when a missile has re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and is maneuvering toward its target, Raytheon noted.
The initial development phase will focus on reducing technical risk, rapidly developing technology and demonstrating the ability to intercept a hypersonic threat, the company said.
Developed on behalf of the Missile Defense Agency, the GPI will be integrated into the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System, a ship- and shore-based defense system that can launch various versions of Raytheon’s Standard Missile interceptors to defeat short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system.
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