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Supersonic Projectile for US Missile Defense Ready for Testing

CC BY-SA 2.0 / Marion Doss / EMRGRecord-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun (EMRG). (File)
Record-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun (EMRG). (File) - Sputnik International
The US military is preparing to test a game-changing artillery round within the next 12 months, according to a January 26 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The hyper-velocity projectile (HVP) promises to significantly augment the way the US military does business. The round fires at speeds around 5,600 miles per hour and can be used for missile defense at a much lower cost than the PAC-3 interceptors or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries.

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The round could also be unleashed by the US Army's howitzer cannons or from the decks of US Navy destroyers, Task and Purpose noted Thursday.

Each HVP costs about $86,000, which may seem expensive until this figure is compared with the Patriot missiles that require specialized launchers and run $3 million each and THAAD batteries that cost in excess of $800 million a pop.

Winning the cost game is important for military calculus, says Vince Sabio, program manager for the hyper velocity projectile at the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office.

Costly interceptors and bulky launch devices present a fundamental problem, Sabio said at a recent CSIS forum. "The adversary is able to count interceptors; they know where our sites are; and they can simply play what we call the ‘plus-one game.' They know if you have ‘X' number of interceptors, the most they absolutely need to throw at you is ‘X' threats. And once you have fired your ‘X' interceptors, they pretty much own you."

Further, since many interceptors have questionable reliability — on Wednesday an Aegis Ashore unit failed to thwart a dummy medium-range ballistic missile — in practice, military doctrine would require shooting two interceptors at each threat, reducing the effective supply of interceptors by about half.

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Instead of the current system, which fires two high-performance interceptors at missiles with a high "probability of kill," an alternative system might fire lots of cheap, low-performance weapons with a low "probability of kill," but when fired en masse are quite likely to, between all of them, hit the threat. What's more, the "high-performance" aspect of many of the current interceptors is widely debated. The Government Accountability Office, for instance, has said that the Ground-based Missile Defense interceptors have a "limited capability" in thwarting incoming missiles.

Commanders could fire roughly 35 HVP rounds for the same price as shooting one Patriot missile, Sabio said. Like many US military projects, the estimated $86,000 cost for each HVP well exceeds initial projections of the weapon running about $25,000 per unit.

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