Pentagon To Pursue "Very Aggressive" Expansion Of Hypersonic Weapons Testing

Over the past couple of years Putin and the Russian Defense Ministry have greatly hyped their hypersonic weapons program, even semi-frequently releasing images and videos of hypersonic missiles prototypes in action. China too has over the past months touted that it's testing hypersonic surface-to-surface missiles which US officials fear could significantly shift the balance of power in the Pacific region.

And now the Pentagon has announced its own classified hypersonics program will undergo a “very aggressive” expansion over the course of the next year.

Citing defense officials in a new report, Bloomberg reports this includes plans for at least "four initial flight tests of prototypes for glide bombs that can fly five times the speed of sound and maneuver en route," and further extra funding and research under the newly established Hypersonics Transition Office.

Rendering of DARPA's Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept, via Raytheon/Defense News

In official statements last Friday Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared to peripherally reference the program while previewing that the next Pentagon budget proposal will be aimed at drastically increasing funding for experimental and cutting edge defense technology, surpassing the already bloated current 5-year $5 billion budget. He referenced a developing “great-power competition” with China.

“We have significantly ramped up flight testing and other experimentation so that we can accelerate the delivery of this capability in all its forms to our warfighters years earlier than previously planned,” Esper said.

Among the few specifics that Bloomberg was able to glean from top officials, include the following plans

  • Frequent testing efforts: Mike White, the Defense Department’s assistant director for hypersonics, said “We have plans to fly prototypes for land-, sea- and air-launched concepts being developed across our portfolio.”
  • The Navy, Army and Air Force, along with the Pentagon's special advanced research agency, are all developing hypersonics.
  • Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are deeply involved as the prime contractors.
  • The Army is working on a “Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon”.
  • Schools like Purdue, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and the University of Minnesota are set to receive major Congressional funding grants to pursue research into hypersonics. 

White said this year will mark a significant transition where design and weapons concepts will “have been matured” as actual testing ramps up past the mere development phase, much of which was set in place in 2017 and 2018.

The Pentagon is clearly reacting to the advancing programs of China and Russia, given that alarmingly these weapons “are hard to stop, they can maneuver, they’re unpredictable” and “hard to detect” so “you don’t have a lot of time” to respond — as White explained further, according to the report. 

It must be remembered that a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the current ballistic missile defense system in the US is powerless against hypersonic missiles from China and Russia.