A Hypersonic 'Arms-Race' Erupts As DARPA Director Demands More Funding To Counter Russia

Moments after President Vladimir Putin used his state-of-the-nation speech on Thursday to deliver a warning directed at the United States that Russia’s latest hypersonic missile can penetrate U.S. missile shields, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) frantically informed members of the press that his agency is aggressively pursuing similar capabilities.

“Efforts to contain Russia have failed - face it,” Putin declared in a two-hour speech at his annual state of the nation address in Moscow, Russia, which included computer simulations of a new intercontinental missile called Avangard that can fly at speeds of Mach 20 (15,345.4 Miles per hour), detailed a report by Sputnik News. Putin also announced the deployment of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, capable of delivering a payload of hell at Mach 10 (7,672.69 Miles per hour) with a range of 1,250 miles.

Did Putin’s bombshell developments on hypersonics catch America’s military-industrial complex with their pants down?

“China and Russia are active in the area of hypersonics [and] have been developing capabilities,” DARPA Director Steven Walker said March 01 during a press briefing with reporters in Washington, D.C.

“We do need an infusion of dollars in our infrastructure to do hypersonics,” he said.

According to the National Defense Magazine, last year, DARPA officials informed the Defense Department that the United States is entering into an era of hypersonics, where the race for hypersonic technologies has flourished among global superpowers.

Government officials “laid out where we thought the U.S. was in hypersonics and where we thought some of our peer competitors were in hypersonics, and really tried to convince the department that we need a national initiative in this area,” said Walker.

The Pentagon allotted more funding to DARPA and other military services for hypersonic development in the fiscal year 2019 budget request, he noted. “I don’t think we got everything we wanted but it was a good first step.” The fiscal year 2019 budget request calls for a 136 percent increase over 2018 request in hypersonic efforts at DARPA’s laboratories, according to an agency spokesman.

Walker said the additional funds would go towards additional test flights and “getting some of our offensive capability further down the line into operational prototypes.”

Over the last five years, the agency has partnered with multiple military branches and other government entities to further hypersonic technologies.

In particular, DARPA has worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop air-launched hypersonic missiles.

“The tactical boost-glide and hypersonic air-breathing weapons concept programs are moving forward, and flight testing is expected to ramp up next year,” Walker said.

“These will be systems that are very capable,” he said.

“The speed provides you a lot of range so you can use them from standoff” distances, he added.

DARPA’s expertise in hypersonics enabled the Air Force to increase their program size in the 2019 budget request on the “effort for tactical boost-glide systems that could lead to operational prototypes,” he said.

Nevertheless, DARPA has started a new partnership with the Army called “op fires. Walker stated, “focus will be on increasing the capabilities of the service’s long-range fires systems.”

Additionally, DARPA has plans to partner with the Navy on hypersonic technologies including “hypersonic air-breathing weapon program and a follow-on effort,” he noted.

The agency even has plans on working with NASA to develop a full-range hypersonic engine which uses a combined cycle propulsion system. Walk said the engine could enable an aerial vehicle with proper aerodynamics to fly at speeds of Mach 6 (4,603.61 Miles per hour). Ground testing of the hypersonic engines expected in 2019 or 2020 period.

Walker noted that hypersonics is a top priority of new Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, while the allotment of funds in the 2019 budget request is desirable, there will be an even more significant request for funds in the years ahead.

“If you look at some of our peer competitors — China being one — and you look at the number of facilities they’ve built to do hypersonics, it surpasses the number we have in this country and is quickly surpassing it by [a factor of] two or three,” he said. “It is very clear that China has a focus on hypersonics and are making it one of their national priorities, and I think we need to do the same.”

“We were called in … to help inform them on what this hypersonics thing is all about,” Walker said.

Putin told the audience that Russia started working on hypersonic weapons to counter America’s missile defense systems, as early as 2004, but he said that Washington ignored our warning.

Now “you will listen to us,” he declared.

Well, it seems as the director of DARPA has certainly listened this time to Putin’s hypersonic missile threat, after all, computer simulations depicting hypersonic missiles barreling down towards Florida has certainly put America’s military-industrial complex on edge.