FARNBOROUGH, England — In short order, hypersonic weapons seemed to transition from concept to priority — with U.S. military leadership demanding rapid development to both keep up with and counter advancements of U.S. adversaries.
Defense News spoke to Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon’s Missile Systems business, to find out what’s driving the urgency and how industry is supporting the effort.
A key priority of the Defense Department is hypersonics. What kind of investments has Raytheon made in that area?
Some of our missiles already travel at hypersonic speed, and when we’re intercepting incoming missiles in space, that’s a hypersonic engagement. But a lot of the new capabilities we’re talking about are [focused on] extending the speed envelope of some of our missile systems. There are several categories. One would be an air-breathing system that can go at Mach 5-plus — five times the speed of sound.
There are other systems that go into space and bounce off the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds — and that’s to give them extended range so they can come down on top of targets. There is also a lot of discussion about counter hypersonics, where you’re actually protecting yourself against a threat capability in hypersonics.
We’re working with the Defense Advanced Research Agency on a program called the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept. And we’re also talking to them about boost-glide capabilities — these are the ones that bounce off the atmosphere and come in over the top. And we’re in a lot of discussion with the Air Force and Missile Defense Agency about using hypersonics for missile defense as well as doing counter hypersonics.
How might the military be using hypersonic weapons in five or 10 years?
It just gives you the advantage of time. We have a range of missile systems, from a subsonic Tomahawk to a supersonic AMRAAM. But the [ability] to go five times the speed of sound — that shortens the envelope that you can interact with the threat space and allows you to [extend] longer range in shorter time. It gives war fighters flexibility and agility in how they respond to a potential threat.
The Air Force is working on a prototype of a hypersonic weapon. Are you looking at the prospect of that effort becoming a procurement program?
We’d be ready to compete. We’ve spent a lot of internal research and development funds on capabilities and key technologies that we can bring to bear on those kinds of programs. Like I said, we’re working with DARPA, and we’re working with the Army on future hypersonic projectiles.
We have a broad portfolio, and as these developments mature we’ll get a chance to compete once they go out of development phase and into real production.
For so long hypersonics was viewed as a concept — a down-the-road scenario. It seems closer to reality. What time frame are we looking at?
It will be driven by our success in development, but you can see it on a horizon of a few years, into production three to five years from now. It’s driven by the threat space.
Your seeing that urgency coming from leadership and the U.S. Defense Department because they feel the need to get it out there faster. We’re prepared to do that.
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.