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.
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 tactical battlefield.
- 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 to space.
White said DOD’s strategy has four major phases of implementation:
- Phase 1 is technology development and concept demonstration.
- 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.