Since September 2021, North Korea has conducted three hypersonic missile tests that are destabilizing the dynamics of the region. While it was announced that the developments did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. territory or its allies, the potential for North Korea to wield such powerful weapons casts a chilling effect throughout the world.

According to reports, the missiles’ range has nearly doubled since the initial test. North Korean state media reported that the most recent test missile hit a target 900 miles away. If true, this effectively puts most of Japan within range. At this pace of development, North Korea’s hypersonic missiles will be able to target U.S. forces not only in Japan, but Guam and Alaska within a few years.

The time is now for the U.S. Department of Defense to reform how it works with industry to develop, test and deploy solutions to counter these threats before the U.S. is at a serious disadvantage.

While some might dismiss North Korea’s recent actions as a plea to be respected as a nuclear power or an attempt to lift economic sanctions, there is a history of North Korea exporting military technology to other rogue adversaries, such as Iran. The difference this time is that hypersonic missiles cost only a fraction to develop compared to a full-fledged conventional military force, and result in highly disruptive impacts on regional and global power dynamics.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond has indicated that the U.S. Space Force is pivoting to create a more robust and resilient future space architecture and rapidly developing satellites to detect, track, target and engage missiles. These solutions are innovative; for example, they modify the existing conventional infrared capabilities of weather satellites for our warfighters’ needs. They also are cost-effective and able to rapidly acquire and deploy as our adversaries develop threats at an alarming pace.

But we need more.

The DoD must drive forward a new procurement, testing and deployment strategy that enables us to stay on par with our enemies and protect ourselves and our allies against hypersonic weapons. Our near-peer threats aren’t waiting for extensive government analysis to deem a specific missile capable of addressing a mission, and the U.S. needs to behave similarly in deploying defense mechanisms.

We must adopt the innovation mindset of our industry peers in Silicon Valley. And while “move fast and break things” might not be the right motto for the defense industry, we need to at least start to move faster and not be afraid to break the processes that have, for decades, dictated how the DoD and industry have worked together.

This type of innovation must be supported with appropriate investment to maintain — and further enhance — the pace required to adequately address the threat at hand, if not get out ahead of it. We must be able to develop and test new technologies in parallel and account for greater experimentation. The linear development model of old just doesn’t work anymore. This requires removing the focus on funding of decades-long programs that result in outdated systems upon completion. This also requires a willingness to accept that every project won’t be a guaranteed success, but the best will rise to the top more quickly and effectively as a result.

On Jan. 7, the U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense ministers agreed to respond quickly against North Korea’s hypersonic threats, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioning that the two countries are launching a “new research and development agreement that will make it easier for our scientists, engineers and program managers to collaborate on emerging defense-related issues — from countering hypersonic threats to advancing space-based capabilities.” He noted that the alliance “must not only strengthen the tools we have, but also develop new ones.”

Developing the new tools and defending against these emerging threats must be of utmost importance for the United States. The DoD and industry must come together to build a 21st century procurement and development model for us to have any hope in defending against these emerging threats.

Ross Niebergall is vice president and chief technology officer at L3Harris Technologies. He has 25 years of experience leading advanced innovation initiatives in the aerospace and defense industry.

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