Hypersonics Development Strategy
by David Vergun, DOD News
March 4, 2021
The Defense Department has identified hypersonics as one of the
highest priority modernization areas, as Russia and China develop
their own capable systems.
Hypersonic systems are able to
travel on extended flights within the upper atmosphere — 80,000 to
200,000 feet — at speeds near and above Mach 5, and they're able to
maneuver in ways that are hard for defenders to predict.
A NASA artist's rendering depicts a hypersonic vehicle.
The high-altitude range creates a gap between air defenses and
ballistic missile defenses, Mike White, principal director for
hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for
research and engineering, said.
White told attendees of the
Air Force Association's virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium that to
address these challenges, the department has developed a hypersonics
modernization strategy that accelerates the development and delivery
of transformational warfighting capabilities.
He said the strategy consists of:
Developing air-, land-, and
sea-launched, conventionally-armed hypersonic strike weapons for
highly-survivable, long-range, time-critical defeat of maritime,
coastal and inland targets of critical importance on the
Using comprehensive, layered-defeat of
an adversary's tactical hypersonic strike missile capability.
Utilizing reusable, hypersonic systems
for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike, as
well as the first stage of a two stage vehicle for rapid access
White said DOD's strategy has four major phases of
Phase 1 is technology development and
Phase 2 is weapon system concept prototype
development and demonstration.
Phase 3 is the accelerated
fielding of prototype weapon system capability.
Phase 4 is the
creation of acquisition programs and capability phasing plans.
The hypersonic strategy is being
implemented in a highly coordinated set of programs across the
military services and agencies and with critical, enabling
investments in the industrial base and organic laboratories, as well
as working collaboratively with our allies, where appropriate.
"We will deliver strike capability to the warfighter in the
early-mid 2020s and a layered hypersonic defense capability — first
terminal and then glide phase — in the mid-late 2020s. For reusable
systems, our goal is to deliver capability in the early to
mid-2030s," White said.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, program executive officer
for weapons and director of the armament directorate at the Air
Force Life Cycle Management Center in the Air Force Materiel
Command, said his organization is developing a rapid prototyping
program for the AGM-183A air-launched rapid response weapon, dubbed
The ARRW program is a boost-glide based hypersonic
weapon. Collins said his team is getting ready for the first booster
flight test next week. "We're also getting ready to transition into
production within about a year on that program, so it will be the
first air-launch hypersonic weapon that the Air Force has.
"We're really proud to be in the hypersonics weapon enterprise at
this point in this exciting time, and we're just on the cusp of an
operational capability," Collins added.
James Weber, senior
scientist for hypersonics at the Air Force Research Laboratory, said
the lab has a long history in hypersonic science and technology
development, beginning in the early 1960s.
Over the last 25
years, the Air Force Research Laboratory has invested over $1.7
billion in hypersonics, he said.
A model of a hypersonic vehicle is tested in a wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center, Maryland on December, 10, 2009. (Photo by NASA's Langley Research Center)
"We have a wide technology portfolio for hypersonics with
competencies and test capabilities in aero-aerothermal,
propulsion — such as scramjet propulsion and solid rocket
motors and liquid rockets, high-temperature materials and
structures, manufacturing, guidance and control systems and
ordnance systems and also basic research," Weber said,
adding that AFRL works closely with other military services
For instance, Weber said the research
laboratory is partnering with the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency on the hypersonic, air-breathing weapon
concept program, as well as the tactical, boost-glide
program. "We are partnered with them to develop and
demonstrate critical technologies for air-launched
hypersonic weapons by FY22," he said.
added that his team is also collaborating with Collins' ARRW
Air Force Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara, director of
strategic plans, programs and requirements at the Air Force Global
Strike Command, said that developing new hypersonics capabilities
requires accelerated acquisition strategies once the most promising
programs are narrowed down.
Gebara said that over the years,
the department has done some amazing testing with hypersonics, but
has not followed through to production. What's different this time
is that there's a national will to accelerate these programs and get
them fielded quickly.
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