Spanish and German companies begin work on a hypersonic missile interceptor

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

In July, the European Union announced the winners of its first list of EDF-funded projects, which included 61 research and development projects and over $1.2 billion (US$1.23 billion) in public funds.

Among the highest awards is the European Hypersonic Defense Interceptor (EU HYDEF) program, which will cover the design phase to develop an endo-atmospheric interceptor, according to documents from the European Defense Fund. The program will last 36 months and is expected to cost nearly 110 million euros ($110.2 million). The EU will contribute a maximum of almost €100 million to this effort.

Spain’s Sener Aerospacial Sociedad Anonima coordinates the EU’s HYDEF program, while Germany’s Diehl Defense provides general technical direction, company officials said.

The aim is to build a “European interceptor targeting 2035+ threats, as well as weapons and sensor systems”, according to the EU factsheet. Sener, Diehl and their partners will work on the development and demonstration of the HYDEF interceptor.

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

The project is tied to the effort dubbed Timely alert and interception with space-based theater surveillance, or TWISTER, under the banner of the PESCO program, abbreviation of Permanent Structured Cooperation.

The end goal of the interceptor program is to implement a countermeasure that could eventually be integrated into an air defense system of systems capable of early warning, tracking and high performance aerial threat interception, 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 said that while the Commission itself does not link EDF proposals to existing PESCO projects, EDF applicants may 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, as well as communications, actuators and aerodynamic control, Quintana said. His work on EU HYDEF will be informed by his participation in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) future controlled space re-entry vehicle, the agency’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) and future unmanned orbital spaceplane “Space Rider”. Both of these vehicles will reach hypersonic speeds during reentry, Quintana noted. Sener also supplies actuation and control subsystems for MBDA’s METEOR air-to-air missile and Diehl’s IRIS-T interceptor.

Sener and Diehl have a long “close industrial relationship,” working on both the IRIS-T air-to-air and surface-launched medium-range (SLM) variants, Quintana said. “The success of this air defense missile and the experience gained by the companies in its development was the basis for Sener and Diehl to consider whether 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 engineering and design of the interception systems, Sinikka Salchow, EU HYDEF program manager, told Defense News. Diehl is also responsible for the design and simulation of the upstream system, as well as guidance, navigation and preflight control, Salchow said in an email. The missile components seeker and signal electronics will also fall under the competence of the German company.

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

Eleven additional partners are part of the EU HYDEF consortium. They include: Spanish Navantia; Escribano Mechanical and Engineering, GMV Aerospace and Defence, Instalaza SA and the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial Esteban Terradas of the Ministry of Defence; the Instytut Techniczny Wojsk Lotniczych in Poland and the Aviation Institute in Warsaw; LK Engineering from the Czech Republic; Nammo from Norway; the Swedish space Ruag; and the Belgian group Sonaca.

Vivienne Machi is a journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany, who contributes to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously worked for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defense Media Awards’ Best Young Defense Journalist in 2020.