WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is looking to transfer $50 million within its fiscal 2019 budget to cover the cost of the design and development of a prototype mobile launcher for its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, or LRHW.
The Defense Department submitted an omnibus reprogramming request to Capitol Hill on June 25, which congressional defense committees must approve.
The department wants the additional funding for the mobile launch capability in order to reach “residual” operational capability by FY23.
Developing hypersonic weapons, capable of flying five times the speed of sound, is a part of the Army’s top modernization priority — Long-Range Precision Fires —because of the added capability it would bring in eliminating enemy systems in contested battlespace. There is also a need in the U.S> to develop an offensive hypersonic capability to stay ahead of similar weapon development underway by Russia and China.
The mobile LRHW will bring online “a new class of ultra-fast, maneuverable, long-range missiles to neutralize enemy defensive weapons with rockets launched from trucks with Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs),” the reprogramming document states.
Follow-on efforts will be funded through the Army’s research, development, test and evaluation account in future budget years, the document adds.
The Army is leading the Pentagon’s effort — Conventional Prompt Strike — but is teamed with the Navy to develop a booster for the hypersonic missile and is building a common glide body internally with both the Navy and Air Force.
The service is finishing design work for the prototypes and plans to conduct flight tests focused on range, environmental factors and contested environments.
The plan is to field a battery-sized hypersonic weapon to soldiers by 2023. The service will use the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System and M870 trailers to make the system road-mobile.
The Army still needs to build a transporter-erector-launcher to simultaneously accommodate two hypersonic missiles, which is where the extra $50 million comes in.
The service plans to spend $1.2 billion over the next five years beginning in FY20 on its hypersonic effort. In FY20 alone, the Army has budgeted $228 million.
A total of $181 million is requested in FY21 to move through the preliminary design review, which will end in the first quarter of FY22.
In FY22, the Army will conduct a critical design review and then begin testing all-up rounds at the end of the fiscal year into FY23. The service has budgeted $137 million in FY22 to accomplish those tasks.
The Army will then move into full-system flight tests in FY23 using a $359 million budget.
The service plans to outfit the Multi-Domain Operations Task Force’s strategic fires battalion with the battery to field early combat capability to the force, but to also learn how to use the equipment; to develop possible tactics, techniques and procedures that might be used in combat; and to learn how to train to use the weapons.
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.