Beijing is developing a drone that will approach hypersonic missiles and then destroy them with an energy weapon. Unlike previous defense missiles, the drone can be used multiple times.

Hypersonic is one of the major topics of the future, not only, but above all, in armaments. Speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound reduce warning times enormously, and hypersonic weapons are also very difficult to intercept, especially when they can change course. They are simply faster than today’s interceptor missiles. That’s a bit like trying to catch up with a modern-day fighter jet with a biplane.

Chinese scientists have now come closer to the idea of ​​a hypersonic interceptor. At least in a concept that so far only exists as a computer simulation. Amazingly, it’s not a single-use weapon like a traditional interceptor missile, but a reusable system. The basis is a drone that also reaches the hypersonic range – with five times the speed of sound, however, at the lower end of the hyper spectrum. It is powered by a scramjet engine and is said to be able to travel great distances. Your defense screen is then correspondingly large. This drone then fires an energy weapon — a laser or some form of microwave — that destroys the oncoming hypersonic threat.

New calculations

In this step, mathematics was taken care of, according to the head of the research team, Yin Zhongjie, from the Shanghai Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Completely new territory was entered. All programs for calculating and predicting rocket courses are useless for the Scramjet drone. The rocket carries an oxidizer for the fuel, while the scramjet engine breathed in ambient air. This current changes all calculations.

Calculating the course of the weapon to be intercepted requires such complex calculations that the onboard computer cannot perform them on its own. This is where another innovation comes into play. China recently managed to establish permanent data communication with a hypersonic missile. The algorithm developed by Yin’s team should reliably bring the drone to a distance of 6.8 kilometers from the target. That would put it well within the energy weapon’s area of ​​effect.

With some help from the US

In the development there is also a stair joke of the story. The Chinese stated that old research from the USA had been very useful to them. For example, the controls that NASA once developed for the hypersonic X-33 aircraft. A project that has been discontinued. And also the doctoral thesis of David Benson, then at MIT, now involved in the development of hypersonic weapons in the USA. The US military also started developing a system against hypersonic threats in 2020.

However, the Chinese approach is more promising because it eliminates the need to use multiple missiles against one target and because the glider can be reused.

In terms of status, on the one hand this is just a computer simulation, which by no means says that even a demonstrator will be built. The real value lies in the development of a software base that will benefit all Chinese hypersonic projects.