- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Pentagon is pouring millions of dollars into a new program to counter Russian hypersonic weapons as the military races to keep pace with U.S. foes.

The Defense Department this week announced that it’s awarding a $13 million contract to leading defense firm Northrop Grumman for its “Glide Breaker” program, an initiative designed specifically to counter 21st-century hypersonic weapons such as Russia’s high-profile Avangard system.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound, and analysts have warned that the U.S. is in danger of falling further behind its global competitors — particularly Russia and China — in the hypersonics arena.

The Glide Breaker program will be a key piece of the Pentagon’s long-term plan to maintain its edge and develop new ways to counter a hypersonic missile.

“This contract provides for the research, development and demonstration of a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere,” the Pentagon said in a news release announcing the contract.

The Northrop Grumman contract comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Defense Department’s top research arm.

The Glide Breaker program is designed to counter hypersonic vehicles and weapons in the upper atmosphere. Such capability is crucial because hypersonic weapons are able to evade more traditional anti-missile systems currently in place.

While the Pentagon hasn’t explicitly said the program was launched with Russia in mind, Moscow’s Avangard program is a top priority for defense and industry leaders. When he unveiled the system in late 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that it can fly at 20 times the speed of sound — or about one mile per second — rendering all current missile defense systems obsolete.

“The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary,” Mr. Putin said at the time.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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