One of the more concerning weapons in warfare right now is hypersonic missiles. Currently, the United States has no defense against them.
Russia already used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine. This week, China passed Russia as the world’s top producer of hypersonic missiles.
The United States hopes to have operational hypersonic missiles deployed sometime this year. To defend against hypersonics, however, the U.S. needs a whole new type of missile.
The Air Force Research Lab recently highlighted its Missile Utility Transformation via Articulated Nose Technology project, or MUTANT. Basically, it’s a missile with a moving nose.
Most missiles are designed to either attack at long-range or to be highly maneuverable, but not both. With traditional missiles, if the target moves away from what’s called the “point of intercept,” the whole missile must change course to hit its target. Hypersonic missiles can travel several times faster than the speed of sound, which makes target reacquisition unlikely.
With MUTANT, that course correction happens when the front portion of the missile articulates towards the target, focusing the warhead’s lethal payload.
“Historically the size, weight and power requirements of morphing technology has been prohibitive to a missile system level benefit,” the Air Force Research Lab said. “MUTANT is tipping the scale in the morphing weapons favor.”
The MUTANT project is still in the development and testing phase, so it will be some time before the U.S. will be able to deploy the missiles. The Air Force is using modified Hellfire missiles strapped to rocket sleds to test various system components. The AFRL said the Hellfire is “used for research purposes and is not necessarily the intended application of the new articulating nose system.”
MUTANT is being developed as part of the U.S. military’s larger Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) initiative, which demands broad advancements in manned and unmanned aircraft and their weapons systems. According to the AFRL, MUTANT and its articulation control actuation system are directed at fulfilling future NGAD requirements “through the intercept of highly maneuverable targets or threats at longer range with limited cost.”