Industry Gung-Ho on Hypersonics Business

By Jon Harper

Art: Raytheon

Defense industry executives see hypersonic weapons as an increasingly lucrative business opportunity as the Pentagon pumps more funding into its initiatives.

Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 or faster and are highly maneuverable. They provide commanders a quick-strike option, and pose a challenge for existing air-and-missile defense systems.

The weapons are the No. 1 technology priority of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. The Pentagon is trying not to lose ground to China and Russia, which are developing their own hypersonic capabilities.

In June, the Air Force, Army and Navy signed a memorandum of agreement for joint collaboration, and investment in new systems is expected to ramp up in the coming years.

In August, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin an undefinitized contract for a hypersonic air-launched rapid response weapon with a potential value of up to $480 million. Earlier this year, the service announced that Lockheed had been awarded a contract with a potential value of nearly $1 billion for an air-launched hypersonic conventional strike weapon prototyping effort.

Lockheed chairman, president and CEO Marillyn Hewson, has identified hypersonics as one of the company’s “key providers of growth opportunities in the future.” The firm’s Skunk Works division will serve as a “vital incubator” for the technology, she said during a recent second quarter earnings call.

Meanwhile, Raytheon is nearing an agreement with the Defense Department to build the next hypersonic tactical boost glide system, Tom Bussing, the company’s vice president for advanced missile systems, said in July at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom. Raytheon was recently selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the weapon, he told reporters.

“We’re in negotiations with them now … [and] we hope to be on contract here in the next several months,” he said.

The company has invested about $150 million in hypersonics-related technology using internal research-and-development funding, Bussing said. It recently spent about $500 million on a new facility in Tucson, Arizona, that can support development efforts.

Northrop Grumman sees new opportunities with its recent acquisition of Orbital ATK, which has been renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

“This expansion of our portfolio — which has traditionally been more in the counter-hypersonics part of the market — [will enable the company] to now also be able to add value in the weapon systems themselves,” Northrop president and chief operating office Kathy Warden said during a recent second quarter earnings call. 

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Defense Department, Advanced Weapons

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