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News   Science & Tech

Increasing Production Is Important for Hypersonics, Defense Official Says

Feb. 8, 2022 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

The Defense Department is working hard on developing both hypersonic offensive and defensive capabilities. But in the immediate future, one of the most important areas to be developed is increasing the capacity at which such systems can be produced, said Gillian Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office. 

A missile launches, leaving a trail of smoke and fire.
Missile Launch
A Sabre short-range, ballistic missile launches at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for a test of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, an advanced missile defense system, June 7, 2017.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 180920-A-D0439-003

"I would say that everything we're doing in terms of the interceptors, the strike weapons isn't going to make a difference unless we have sufficient quantities," Bussey said during a discussion today with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Having a dozen hypersonic missiles — regardless of whether they're really hypersonic or not — isn't going to scare anyone." 

The biggest technological and industrial capability the department can invest in right now, she said, is to increase production rates, particularly for thermal protection systems for glide vehicles and additive manufacturing for cruise missile engines. 

"I think those are the long poles in the tent when it comes to production," she said. "Those are the things that take the longest. If we can reduce the production time and increase the capacity and you know double, triple, quadruple those production numbers, I think that's how we'll really make a difference." 

The face of a person wearing protective glasses is seen through windows in a large metal tube.
Tube Peephole
Air Force Cadet 2nd Class Eric Hembling uses a Ludwieg tube to measure the pressures, temperatures and flow field of various basic geometric and hypersonic research vehicles at Mach 6 at the Air Force Academy's aeronautics department in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 31, 2019.
Photo By: Joshua Armstrong, Air Force
VIRIN: 190131-F-NH566-0004C

Investing there, she said, needs to start now in order for capacity to be there when the department is ready with a program of record. 

Bussey also said that defending against hypersonics is an expensive and complicated endeavor, while it remains less expensive to develop and launch a hypersonic offense. That's why, even though the department is focused on both offensive and defensive capabilities, it's prioritizing offensive systems. 

"Essentially, this means it's a lot easier to attack than it is to defend against such an attack," she said "Despite the obvious threat, as a department, we've chosen to focus on offense first because a good offense is the best defense, and offense is a lot easier." 

In an illustration, a space vehicle floats above Earth.
Hypersonic Vehicle
The Defense Advanced Research Products Agency’s Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle emerges from its rocket nose cone and prepares to reenter Earth’s atmosphere.
Photo By: DOD graphic
VIRIN: 180920-A-A4416-002A

At the same time, she said, research into both defensive and offensive systems yields valuable knowledge that can be used for both. 

"What has the maneuverability, altitude, reach and speed to hit a hypersonic missile? A hypersonic missile," she said. 

While technology for defensive and offensive systems are different, including seekers, guidance and booster technology, the fundamental design of an offensive or defensive kill interceptor vehicle can be the same, Bussey said. 

"We've seen a number of proposals using what could be an offensive strike weapon used as an interceptor and vice versa," she said.