WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army sees opportunities for industry to drive down the cost of producing hypersonic missiles as it helps to grow the industrial base, which was essentially nonexistent roughly five years ago, according to Chris Mills, the deputy director for the service’s hypersonics project office within the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.
The Army awarded a contract to Leidos subsidiary Dynetics to build the Navy-designed Common Hypersonic Glide Body for both services. Each service will integrate the missile and fine-tune the capabilities based on individual service needs, such as launching from a ground vehicle or a ship.
The Army’s plan is to field its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon — capable of flying at five times the speed of sound — that will launch from a mobile ground platform by the end of 2023.
The service fielded all equipment to the first unit — I Corps’ 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state — two years ago. It’s now waiting for final tests before delivering missiles to the unit. The Army is hopeful the missiles will arrive by the end of the calendar year.
Dynetics spent a year learning how to make glide bodies from Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia representatives worked with Dynetics until the company could independently build the glide bodies.
For industry, “there’s opportunities for improvements of internal components as we try to improve the system going forward,” Mills said, particularly components that could lower the cost of the overall missile. Mills was speaking during a Defense News-hosted event at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Thermal protection is particularly an area where industry could continue to work to make improvements to the current missile design, “making that producible and cheaper … more affordable,” Mills said.
The Army isn’t ready to consider a second source to produce glide bodies beyond Dynetics, Mills said. But the service official added that, should the cost of the missiles go down and the quantity the services want to produce go up, the possibility of choosing a second source would become more likely.
“We’d love to get that competition,” Mills said. “First, we’ve got to get these hypersonic missiles to a price point where we want them.”
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.