WASHINGTON — After another canceled test of the U.S. Army and Navy’s Common Hypersonic Glide Body due to a problem just prior to launch at the end of October, it is now “highly unlikely” the Army will field the weapon to the first unit by the end of the year as planned, Doug Bush, the service’s acquisition chief, told reporters in a Nov. 8 briefing.
The Army and Navy have in recent months seen two tests of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body aborted during pre-flight checks. A previous test planned in March was also scrapped.
Details of the failure detected prior to launch are classified, Bush said, and the Army and Navy are still conducting analysis of the root cause of the problem.
“After a test failure you take the thing back, take it apart, and the members of the team work through, with the engineers, on exactly what the failure was,” he added. “I think we’re close to understanding what exactly the problem was, which will inform our path to getting back to testing.”
But because the Army needed to have at least one live-fire test of the glide body before sending the first Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, or LRHW, missiles to the first unit equipped, the service will likely not meet its deadline to deliver by the end of calendar year 2023, according to Bush. The Army already shifted the deadline from the end of fiscal 2023 to the end of the year.
The Army completed its delivery of the first hypersonic weapon capability to I Corps’ 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state two days ahead of its end of FY21 fielding deadline.
The service went from a blank piece of paper in March 2019 to delivering hardware in just over two years including a battering operations center, four transporter-erector-launchers and modified trucks and trailers that make up the ground equipment of Dark Eagle.
The plan was to allow the unit to train on all the equipment over the next two years while it waited for the real all-up rounds to be delivered.
Hypersonic weapons are capable of flying faster than Mach 5 — or more than 3,836 miles per hour — and can maneuver between varying altitudes, making it difficult to detect. The C-HGB is made up of the weapon’s warhead, guidance system, cabling and thermal protection shield.
The U.S. is in a race to field the weapon capability as well as develop systems to defend against hypersonic missiles. China and Russia are each actively developing and testing hypersonic weapons.
The Army remains committed to the LRHW, Bush stressed, and needs the capability LRHW will bring to the table. “We’ll get LRHW, but it’s going to take more time unfortunately.”
Bush said one compensating factor for the service is that it was able to successfully field its new ship-killing Mid-Range Capability that uses a ground-launched Tomahawk and SM-6 missile.
“That program is now moving into operational capability, so it would be awesome to have both at the same time, but the fact that we got one will add capabilities to the Pacific, in particular, is really important,” Bush said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.