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Spanish, German companies start work on hypersonic missile interceptor

Three Russian MiG-31 jets are seen after landing at the Chkalovsk air base in the Kaliningrad region in August 2022. The Russian Defense Ministry said the planes are equipped to carry Kinzhal hypersonic missiles were deployed to the region as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.” The European Union is working on new programs to counter such weapons in the next decade. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

STUTTGART, Germany — Spanish and German missile manufacturers are leading an effort to develop a new hypersonic defense interceptor as part of the European Defence Fund’s initial batch of sponsored projects.

In July, the European Union announced the awardees of its first slate of EDF-funded projects, which included 61 research-and-development projects and over 1.2 billion (U.S. $1.23 billion) in government funds.

Among the higher awards is the European Hypersonic Defence Interceptor (EU HYDEF) program, which will cover the concept phase to develop an endo-atmospheric interceptor, according to European Defence Fund documents. The program will run for 36 months and is expected to cost nearly €110 million ($110.2 million). The EU will contribute a maximum of almost €100 million to the effort.

Spain’s Sener Aerospacial Sociedad Anonima is coordinating the EU HYDEF program, while Germany’s Diehl Defence is serving as the overall technical lead, company officials said.

The goal is to build a “European interceptor targeting the 2035+ threats, along with weapon and sensor systems,” per the EU fact sheet. Sener, Diehl, and their partners will work to develop and demonstrate the HYDEF interceptor.

At this point, the EU HYDEF program remains in a negotiation phase with the European Commission and participating member states, said Fernando Quintana, Sener’s weapon systems director. Those negotiations will eventually lead to a grant agreement to transfer the pre-allocated funds to the industry team, he told Defense News. The program management body remains to be determined, he added – either the European Commission itself would oversee the effort, or else the intergovernmental Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR).

The project is related to the an effort dubbed Timely Warning and Interception with Space-based TheatER surveillance, or TWISTER, running under the banner of the PESCO program, short for Permanent Structured Cooperation.

The end goal of the interceptor program is to field a countermeasure that could eventually be integrated into an air defense system of systems capable of early warning, tracking, and interception of high-performance airborne threats, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and hypersonic vehicles. “This system of systems is precisely what several European countries, including Spain, under the leadership of France, are developing in TWISTER,” Quintana noted.

A European Commission official declined to comment on specific EDF projects, citing ongoing grant agreement negotiations, but stated that while the commission does not itself link EDF proposals to existing PESCO projects, EDF applicants can choose to refer to a specific PESCO effort in their research or development process.

In addition to overall coordination, Sener will lead elements of the work related to guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) systems, along with communications, and actuators and aerodynamic control, Quintana said. Its work on EU HYDEF will be informed by its involvement in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) forthcoming controlled space re-entry vehicle, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), and the agency’s future “Space Rider” uncrewed orbital spaceplane. Both of those vehicles will reach hypersonic speeds during re-entry, Quintana noted. Sener also provides the actuation and control subsystems for MBDA’s METEOR air-to-air missile and Diehl’s IRIS-T interceptor.

Sener and Diehl have long had a “close industrial relationship,” working on both the air-to-air and surface-launched medium range (SLM) IRIS-T variants, Quintana said. “The success of this air defense missile, and the experience gained by the companies in its development, was the basis for both Sener and Diehl to consider the opportunity to jointly develop a much higher performance missile, such as the one proposed in EU HYDEF,” he said.

Meanwhile, Diehl is responsible for coordinating the “system of systems” component, as well as the interceptor systems’ engineering and design, Sinikka Salchow, company lead for the EU HYDEF program, told Defense News. Diehl is also responsible for upstage design and system simulation, as well as upstage guidance, navigation and control, Salchow said in an email. The missile components seeker and signal electronics will likewise fall under the German company’s purview.

The company will apply its experience from the IRIS-T SLM interceptor as well as from Raytheon’s Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block 2B program to the EU HYDEF project, particularly related to multimode and multispectral seeker technology. Diehl Defence has more than 18 years of experience in the R&D field on hypersonic technologies, as well as on ballistic missile defense projects, Salchow noted.

Eleven additional partners are part of the EU HYDEF consortium. They include: Spain’s Navantia; Escribano Mechanical and Engineering, GMV Aerospace and Defence, Instalaza S.A., and the Ministry of Defence’s Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial Esteban Terradas; Poland’s Instytut Techniczny Wojsk Lotniczych and Warsaw Institute of Aviation; Czech Republic’s L.K. Engineering; Norway’s Nammo; Sweden’s Ruag Space; and Belgium’s Sonaca Group.