Complex Air Defense: Countering the Hypersonic Missile Threat

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Defending against hypersonic missiles is strategically necessary, technologically possible, and fiscally affordable, but it will not be easy. Its realization will require different approaches and new ways of thinking from those employed for legacy ballistic and cruise missile defense missions. Hypersonic weapons combine the speed and range of ballistic missiles with the low-altitude and maneuverable flight profile of a cruise missile. While traditional defenses can handle these challenges individually, their combination will require new capabilities, operational concepts, and defense design. The same characteristics that make hypersonic missiles attractive may also hold the key to defeating them. Instead of thinking about hypersonic defense as an adjunct to the legacy ballistic missile defense problem, it might be better understood as a form of complex air defense.

This report is made possible by support from Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, and by general support to CSIS.

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Tom Karako and Masao Dahlgren, "Complex Air Defense: Countering the Hypersonic Missile Threat," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 7, 2022, last modified August 1, 2022,