MBDA Patent Offers New Glimpse Into Europe’s Hypersonic Weapon Plans

hypersonic missile interceptor
MBDA has started working on solving some of the hardest challenges posed by development of an interceptor for maneuvering hypersonic missiles.
Credit: European Union

A newly filed patent application offers a rare glimpse inside European missile house MBDA’s hypersonic weapon technology program and shows how the company has started working to solve one of the most difficult challenges posed by hypersonic weapons.

The April 9 application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by MBDA France comes as France and the UK deepen interests in pursuing hypersonic speed for a future class of cruise missiles, projectiles and interceptors.

  • Patent involves nose-mounted endgame seeker
  • MBDA leads five-nation interceptor effort

Last November, MBDA accepted the lead in a five-nation pact called the Timely Warning and Interception with Space-based Theater surveillance (Twister) program, which seeks to develop by 2030 an interceptor against a range of threats, including hypersonic gliders and cruise missiles (AW&ST April 6-19, p. 14).

“This patent relates to applications linked to very high-speed missiles, including hypersonic,” MBDA tells Aviation Week. “Be aware that MBDA is pursuing a European program for an interceptor against hypersonic and maneuvering ballistic threats that could be an application for this patent.”

The application with the U.S. patent office, which follows French approval in 2018, focuses on a critical technology for an interceptor missile: a nose-mounted endgame seeker. Long-range flight above Mach 5 exposes the interceptor to airflow temperatures of several hundred degrees Celsius. As a result, the nose-mounted seeker must be shielded within a nose cone until the last few seconds.

The problem then becomes how to eject the nose cone without damaging the seeker. Using a pyrotechnic as the actuator for an explosive bolt is problematic; even if the skin temperatures do not accidentally set off the pyrotechnics, the explosion risks damaging or blinding the sensor.

MBDA’s patent proposes a one-piece assembly for the actuation device, which includes thermal insulation to shield a pyrotechnic charge and prevent an accidental explosion. At the right time, the charge would be set off inside the device. Instead of blowing open the bolt, the charge would generate an overpressure within the device. The overpressure would actuate a piston rod to slam into the shell of the nose cone. The sensor could then be activated to lock onto the target.

MBDA’s hypersonic development extends beyond interceptors: It also is creating the ASN4G, a scramjet-powered, air-launched cruise missile to replace the French ASMP-A nuclear deterrent by the mid-2030s.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.