WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is making headway to build a hypersonic weapons industry in the Untied States, and the Army is spearheading the manufacturing of a key component that will be used by all the services — the Common Hypersonic Glide Body.
The Army’s plan is to field a long-range hypersonic weapon — capable of flying at five times the speed of sound — that will launch from a mobile ground platform by fiscal 2023.
The Pentagon is in a race to develop offensive hypersonic weapons as well as defensive capabilities against hypersonic threats in an effort to offset the production of hypersonic missiles in China and Russia.
The service has awarded a contract to Dynetics Technical Solutions, based in Huntsville, Alabama, to be the first to manufacture a set of hypersonic glide body prototypes, while Lockheed Martin will serve as the weapon system integrator.
The Army is in charge of manufacturing the Common Hypersonic Glide Body for all of the armed services.
While there’s no specific timeline, Dynetics will spend roughly a year learning how to make glide bodies from Sandia National Laboratories, Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, the director of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, told Defense News in an interview a few days before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Thurgood’s office is in charge of rapidly advancing hypersonic and directed-energy capabilities.
“It’s a series of events, it’s not a date on the calendar” for completing what is under contract, Thurgood explained, “because when you’re transitioning from labs into a new production line, there’s learning associated with that, and we need that to happen before we muddy the waters with a second opportunity.”
But the Army does plan to award a second contract as Dynetics wraps up its assigned responsibilities. The additional contract is meant to ensure the hypersonics market is competitive, which will drive down costs and create efficiency as the military buys the weapons.
A third contract is unlikely. But it one is awarded, it will be because of a demand signal, Thurgood said.
“What you don’t want to do is create an industrial base and then add to that a competitive industrial base when the demand signal may not demand that," he added. "What we’ve put in place is the ability to have a competitive industrial base over time. And then if the demand signal demands more, we have the ability to create more leader-followers.”
Additionally, with a goal of fielding hypersonic weapons by 2023, there’s roughly enough time to teach two industrial teams to build the glide bodies before then.
The weapon in its entirety is coming together for each of the services with a plan to test-fire a hypersonic missile this fiscal year.
Lockheed Martin is under contract to develop and produce the missile stack and the canisters into which the missile stack goes. The contract is undefinitized, Thurgood said, but is expected to be definitized by February.
Lockheed also won an Army contract to produce the transport erector launcher as well as integrate the canister, missile and command-and-control system — known as the Army Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System — into a weapons platform by 2023.
Another contract awarded Sept. 30 went to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems to assist with flight tests and data collection for evaluation.
According to Thurgood, the services are focused on remaining synchronized in this effort through board meetings so all the services receive updates on all the moving parts.
Industry and the government have also formed a hypersonics consortium, Thurgood noted.
“The relationships between the industrial base is really important,” he said. “To their credit, they are very open kimono with each other because they all know they rely on each other to be successful.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.