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Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu Remarks at The Hill Virtual Event on "National Security at the Speed of Sound: Hypersonics in American Defense"

BOB CUSACK:  Hello and welcome. I'm Bob Cusack, Editor in Chief of The Hill. Thank you for joining us for our program "National Security at the Speed of Sound: Hypersonics in American Defense." Before we begin, I'd like to thank our sponsor, Raytheon Technologies, for supporting today's conversations.

Hypersonic missiles, those that are able to fly up to five times the speed of sound, have become crucial to U.S. national security in the eyes of American defense leaders.

As great power competitors China and Russia develop and deploy the technology, where does the U.S. stand in the race to develop, test, manufacture and scale hypersonic missiles? When is the technology expected to be fielded by American forces? And what role will it play in future military strategy? And in a strained labor market, how are workforce demands and shortages affecting government, military and private sectors alike?

We're going to be putting these questions and more in front of our fantastic speakers, but first, a few housekeeping notes. You can tweet us at @TheHillEvents using the hashtag #TheHillDefense. We are broadcasting live and will be taking your questions throughout the program.

As with any livestream, you could experience occasional trouble with the video. Refreshing the page should, in most cases, fix the problem.

My first guest is Heidi Shyu. She's the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and in this role, she serves as Chief Technology Officer of the Department of Defense, tasked with ensuring the technology superiority of the U.S. military.

She's the perfect guest to kick off our program today. Welcome, Undersecretary Shyu.

UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE HEIDI SHYU:  Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

MR. CUSACK:  I described a little bit about hypersonics but we've got a big audience online at watching this. Can you explain, you know, a little bit about what hypersonics are and why they're so important?

MS. SHYU:  Hypersonics, as its definition, travels at Mach 5 and beyond, so a very high-speed missile. That's the simplest way of describing it.

MR. CUSACK:  Now, as far as the biggest hurdles that are facing the technology, obviously everything's been affected by COVID. What are the biggest hurdles facing hypersonics today?

MS. SHYU:  I would think the staffing is obviously a critical issue that all of industry has faced, namely no matter who I talk to, they've described that they have faced doubling of attrition rates since pre-COVID. So staffing is a -- the workforce, the staffing is a critical issue that we have to take a look at moving forward.

MR. CUSACK:  And how do you recruit that talent, especially with an aging population, separate from -- from COVID? That's going to be very important because obviously the expertise going into these weapons is key.

MS. SHYU:  Yeah, that's a great question. So one of the things that we have done is created a SMART scholarship program. The SMART scholarship program, for example, last year paid for 482 scholars with -- paid for their tuition. It's a fee-for-service, so namely when you get your degree, if we pay for a four-year degree, you come and work in one of our DOD labs for four years. If we pay for a PhD, depending on how many years you went through the program, we -- you basically have returned to the service, into one of our DOD laboratory for that period of time.

I would tell you that we're looking to significantly up that number next year and the criteria we're looking for is people with STEM skills -- we think the 21 areas that we're interested in. That's one thing.

The other thing is making sure that the PhDs that end up getting their degrees in hypersonics, we need to figure out a way of keeping them in this country. So one of the things we ask for is a Special Immigration Visa so we can keep some of these very highly talented, outstanding PhDs and post-docs. So we want to keep the talent within this country rather than having them leave.

MR. CUSACK:  A lot of the experts in this field say there's a matter of urgency on hypersonics, especially when you look at other countries like Russia and China. How important is it to keep up with them? And have we fallen behind?

MS. SHYU:  I would say hypersonics is one weapons system within our entire arsenal. So we have a vast portfolio of systems. Yes, it is important to keep abreast of what's going on in hypersonics, but it's equally important to keep abreast of many different technology area that's important to us as well, OK?

So what I look at is a vast portfolio perspective across the National Defense Strategy and not just focus on one weapons system.

MR. CUSACK:  We have a question from Shea De Lutis of the Clark Group -- I hope I said that right -- and -- and it plays into that question. How is DOD's procurement and execution approach going to match the identified sense of urgency?

MS. SHYU:  Yeah, so right now, every single service is developing hypersonics weapons, and every single service is training to do fielding of that system in the mid-2020s. They have been on an accelerated path in terms of getting to the initial operating period. So I think in terms of a sense of urgency, it absolutely is there.

MR. CUSACK:  Another weird question -- this is a good one, as well. Joseph McMullen of the Defense Health Agency says -- and asks the question, do the Armed Services envision hypersonic technology replacing current weapon systems? If so, which ones, by service?

MS. SHYU:  It's important to understand that we have a portfolio approach. We look at targets of interest to us, and we want to develop a very thorough simulation to figure out what is the best arrow against this particular target? So it's a full complement of systems that we have to go after a specific target. It isn't just one -- one particular weapon system. I think it's very important to understand that perspective.

MR. CUSACK:  Testing is -- is very important, and a lot of people say, obviously, you've got to test hypersonics before they're -- they're out in the field. How important is that? And what's -- what's the strategy going forward over the next year or couple years?

MS. SHYU:  Testing's clearly a very, very important aspect of all of this, and if you look at the FY '23 budget request that we have pretty significant chunk of money to greatly increase our testing capability. So that will come out in the FY '23 budget.

MR. CUSACK:  There is pending legislation on the defense authorization bill; has hypersonic language in there. How important is that to pass and pass quickly?

MS. SHYU:  So like I said, hypersonic is one of the 14 critical areas that we have, that we're working on. Yes, it is absolutely important to get us going on a hypersonics weapon system, as well as a whole slew of other weapon systems we're developing, as well.

MR. CUSACK:  And how -- how do you -- how do you evaluate that? How does that work internally within the Pentagon of evaluating all those systems and how they interact and how they work together?

MS. SHYU:  That's a great question. It's important to understand, one of the things that we do is we have physics-based modeling and simulation capability to exquisitely model the capability of a particular weapon system. And what we do is we integrate these specific physics-based models into a campaign-level model, OK? The campaign-level model is literally fighting a war, right? And you -- you can have a -- a -- the blue side simulating this entire campaign-level model against the red side, and different players can play against one side versus another. And with the actual modeling and simulation, we can predict the outcome of the -- of any type of conflict, and you can replay that over and over again with different scenarios.

MR. CUSACK:  With different scenarios, OK. What is -- then another question that I thought was very important: Mary Paulet of Talon Analytics and Situational Awareness, Inc. This is one that we want to ask about the defense against other hypersonic weapons. So what is the status of defenses against hypersonic weapons from other countries?

MS. SHYU:  Great question. This is why we have the Missile Defense Agency, OK? Their job is literally to defend against a portfolio of different missile threats against us. So we have detailed models of each of the threats coming against us, and we've laid out what we need to detect and track and counter these threats, and that's what we're funding, too.

MR. CUSACK:  Russia reportedly has used hypersonics in its war against Ukraine. Can you share any information of what we've learned from that?

MS. SHYU:  Yeah. Not everything needs a hypersonic. Hypersonics, as you can see from the conflict, is not necessarily the best use. They've shot their Killjoy hypersonics weapon against a dam. The dam is still there.

MR. CUSACK:  Going forward just in the investment of hypersonics in defending the homeland, what -- what's the role of stakeholders? I'm sure you meet with a number of them. Going forward, what is the key to getting everybody on the same page? And what do you look for...

MS. SHYU:  With defense?

MR. CUSACK:  ... within the government to -- to help things?

MS. SHYU:  Sorry, can -- can you repeat that question?

MR. CUSACK:  What are you looking for for outside parties to help this cause, whether it's investment from Congress or otherwise?

MS. SHYU:  We have engaged with commercial companies, commercial companies that talk about their ability to also help in the testing arena. So we have definitely engaged with commercial company in addition to what we are investing in in terms of testing for infrastructure internally within the DOD, and it's going to be complementary and greatly enhance our capability to do testing, as well as launching.

MR. CUSACK:  As far as investment, you mentioned the -- the budget numbers, which are very important, obviously, and that the administration comes up with a number, and then Congress decides what they're going to give. But -- but going forward next five, 10 years, cost is always a concern on any issue. How important is it to invest this, not just for the next fiscal year, but for the next five, 10 fiscal years?

MS. SHYU:  Yeah, it's -- it's important to understand, the number of things I'm trying to focus on. One is driving the cost down. If it's too expensive, we won't be able to afford very many, right? So it's critically important that we drive the cost down. So I'll be talking to companies to figure out, what are things that they can do once -- to help scale up production, and also, to drive down the cost?

MR. CUSACK:  And that's what you look for, especially down the road, that when you try to cut back on cost, and that certainly helps whatever anyone's investing in.

Heidi Shyu, thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate the time.

MS. SHYU:  Thank you.