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Official Says DOD on Track to Accelerate Delivery of Hypersonic Weapons

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Hypersonics is a key element of the Defense Department's modernization activity, delivering high-speed, long-range lethal effects that can take out high-priority targets on the battlefield, a key Defense Department official said.

Two men in military uniforms stand on a ladder at the nose of an airplane.
Rapid Response
Airmen from the 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron secure the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 as it is loaded under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress during a hypersonics test, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 6, 2020.
Photo By: Giancarlo Casem, Air Force
VIRIN: 200806-F-HC101-1004M

Mike White, principal director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said hypersonics are effective because they fly at sustained speeds around Mach 5, and above, at very high altitudes and are maneuverable. This makes them difficult to intercept and able to reach high-priority targets from long range, in a very short time.

White told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that a lot of science goes into developing hypersonic systems. For instance, at speeds of Mach 5 and above, thermal protection systems are very important because of the heat generated, he said, adding that carbon-based composites are being developed to prevent overheating.

A rocket sled just before launch.
Test Launch
A 9-inch monorail sled prior to being used in the Holloman High Speed Test Track at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The sled was launched as part of the Hypersonic Readiness program, which is a series of tests being conducted by the 846th Test Squadron to prepare for future rocket sled testing in support of programs and projects such as the Hypersonic Test and Evaluation Investment Portfolio and the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon.
Photo By: Air Force photo
VIRIN: 200826-F-F3405-0010

Besides offensive hypersonics, DOD is also working on defensive measures against a potential adversary's hypersonic systems, he said, referring to Russia and China. Intercept measures are being developed to take out enemy hypersonics in all phases — such as launch, glide and terminal.

The hypersonic systems being developed, he said, include a family of hypersonic weapons that can be launched from the sea, land and air, as well as, a family of weapons to defend against adversary hypersonic capability. As such, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Missile Defense Agency are all developing these capabilities, in cooperation with organizations such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Sandia National Laboratories and industry. There are also initiatives with allies.

An airman works on an aircraft.
Test Team
Members of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 test team make final preparations prior to a captive-carry test flight of the prototype hypersonic weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 8, 2020.
Photo By: Kyle Brasier, Air Force
VIRIN: 200808-F-DB956-0290C

White mentioned that Congress and the administration have been very supportive of hypersonics development.

The DOD's fiscal year 2022 budget request includes $6.6 billion to develop and field long-range fires, including hypersonics, with a goal of testing and producing air, land, and maritime launched weapons by the early to mid-2020's. 

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