By Ohashi Takushi
The Sankei learned on Aug. 7 that the Ministry of Defense (MOD) is planning to utilize unmanned aircraft to rapidly detect hypersonic missiles that can fly at speeds greater than Mach 5. The MOD will adapt a detection system for ballistic missiles that has already been verified. China and Russia are leading the development of hypersonic missiles, and the Japanese government is rushing to find ways to respond to them.
Hypersonic weapons fly through conventional air search radars at breakneck speed. Such weapons reportedly take time to be detected and are difficult to intercept. Many countries are racing to develop hypersonic weapons, which are regarded as “game-changers” that could alter the military balance between nations in the future.
China and Russia are leading the race to develop hypersonic weapons. A Chinese military parade in October 2019 featured hypersonic glide weapons that can be mounted with “DF17″ intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Russia has developed a similar “Avangard” glide weapon whose deployment is said to have already begun.
It is difficult to intercept hypersonic weapons using conventional missile defense systems. The use of unmanned aircraft to overcome the delay in detection is under discussion.
The MOD is researching systems that will enable the rapid detection of ballistic missiles. The plan is to install small infrared sensors on unmanned aircraft to operate in airspace near enemy aircraft. The MOD completed the verification of the technology in 2019.
Airspace can be continuously monitored with unmanned aircraft by selecting flight routes according to the weather. The collected data will be transmitted to a ground-based system. Rapid detection may be possible if multiple unmanned aircraft with infrared sensors are deployed in forward airspace to detect hypersonic weapons. An unmanned aircraft will not result in lives lost even if it is shot down. Costs could also be reduced.