WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon’s fiscal 2023 budget request includes a “huge jump” for hypersonic weapons testing and facilities, something the defense industry has sought, according to the department’s head of research and development.
“If you look at this particular test asset ― facilities ― there’s a huge jump in the budget for equipment and test ranges,” the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Heidi Shyu, told Defense News on Wednesday.
The Biden administration hasn’t yet released detailed budget tables, but Shyu said one thing in the request is an expansion of facilities at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tullahoma, Tennessee, among other similar proposals.
“It’s where we’re putting a chunk of the investment because we have a wind tunnel that we’re upgrading,” Shyu said of the facility, which has received a spate of funding over recent years to prepare for a surge in workload.
Lawmakers boosted funding for Defense Department laboratory and testing infrastructure by $800 million in the $1.5 trillion federal spending package for fiscal 2022, which was signed into law last month. That infrastructure serves a range of emerging technologies such as hypersonic and directed-energy weapons.
Amid complaints from lawmakers that the Pentagon is trailing Russia and China in hypersonic weapons, the FY22 spending bill cut funding for what was thought to be the department’s leading effort — the Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, made by Lockheed Martin.
Tests of the ARRW in April, July and December of 2021 all failed due to problems during the launch process.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that he has been pressing industry to lean into hypersonic technology development.
“I have engaged industry and asked them to make sure that they’re leaning into this issue of hypersonic development,” Austin said. “Most importantly, I’ve asked them to make sure that they’re working with us on how we’re going to defend ourselves with respect to hypersonics. My R&E staff is working with them to ensure that they have good visibility of what we believe our requirements are.”
In February, during a meeting convened by Austin to discuss hypersonic weapons, industry executives identified testing infrastructure shortfalls as a major barrier to fielding the capabilities on a faster timeline.
Former DoD officials and analysts told Defense News in February that the FY23 defense budget request will be a key indicator as to whether the department is serious about improving hypersonic test infrastructure.
“The CEOs indicated they would like to see more test infrastructure, and we’ve actually funded it,” Shyu said of Austin’s meeting and the FY23 request. “Industry would like to have their own test infrastructure, for them to do their own [testing], and what I’m investing in is for the government to do the testing. And there’s also funding for universities to do research and testing.”
Shyu made the remarks after a Senate subcommittee hearing where lawmakers pressed her as well as the heads of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Innovation Unit to explain the Pentagon’s progress in developing hypersonic weapons.
DARPA chief Stephanie Tompkins said a successful test last month of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept marked “an inflection point on the path to reclaiming U.S. leadership in hypersonic weapons.”
Courtney Albon and Stephen Losey contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.