WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army plans to conduct two additional tests of its hypersonic missile before fielding it to the first unit by the end of fiscal 2023.
The service delivered the first battery’s worth of ground equipment of Dark Eagle, a hypersonic weapons capability, just over a year ago. It went to the I Corps’ 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
The Army is on track to deliver the actual hypersonic missiles to the unit by the end of FY23, Lt. Gen. Robert Rasch, who runs the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Lockheed Martin is the weapons system integrator for the hypersonic capability, which will launch from a mobile truck.
Now, the service, which is co-developing the hypersonic weapon with the Navy, is readying for the upcoming flight tests. Rasch would not disclose the timing of the tests, citing security reasons, but said the initial one will mark the first time the Army and Navy will shoot the full missile using the ground-support equipment.
The soldiers who receive the capability will execute the second — and last — flight test ahead of fielding.
The Army has spend more than a decade developing and testing a hypersonic capability. One of the earliest flight tests dates back to 2010, but the service then paused work on the effort, eventually reopening it about five years ago as part of a major modernization push.
The Navy and Army had their first successful common hypersonic glide body test in early 2020 using old, borrowed booster stacks from the Missile Defense Agency. The hypersonic missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, and flew at hypersonic speed. It made its impact within 6 inches of the target.
In fall 2021, during another test, the booster stack failed. That mission was considered incomplete.
The Army has been in charge of developing the common hypersonic glide body, while the Navy has worked to develop a two-stage hypersonic missile booster stack.
In June, Rasch said, the stack underwent a successful flight test. While the test was intended to validate the booster stack, the Army also attached a hypersonic glide body.
“We didn’t complete full end-to-end, what I would call, success,” Rasch said.
“Given the rarity of these events, we always have stretch learning goals. We would have loved to have seen the whole thing [work],” he added. “But quite frankly the primary risk area we were focused on was, we have confidence in the hyper[sonic] glide body, [now] we need to get confidence in this missile stack.”
The missile stack’s performance was successful, Rasch noted. “If we would have just declared that all we were going to do was just to shoot up a missile stack, it would have been 100% a success.”
Meanwhile, Dynetics, chosen in August 2019 to build the hypersonic glide body, recently built its first hypersonic glide body in its facilities and is on track to deliver a second one in the coming weeks, Rasch said.
Leidos-owned Dynetics spent roughly a year learning how to make glide bodies from Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia representatives then spent about a year at Dynetics’ facility in Huntsville, Alabama, to ensure the company could build the weapon.
Dynetics is “on a good path” to complete all hypersonic glide bodies needed to support the Army and Navy’s near-term needs, Rasch 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.