Esper: Big Boost for Hypersonics Funding in 2021 Budget

By Stew Magnuson

Illustration: Raytheon

The big increases in research-and-development dollars going toward hypersonics research will be getting even bigger, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Jan. 24.

“The department nearly doubled its long-term investment — almost $5 billion more in FY 2020 — in hypersonics alone in the next five years. And our 2021 budget will be even stronger,” he said during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The Defense Department and its agencies — along with the Air Force, Navy and Army — have significantly ramped up flight testing and other hypersonic experiments “so we can accelerate the delivery of this capability in all its forms to our warfighters years earlier than previously planned.”

Esper did not reveal any numbers for the R&D boost. The Trump administration’s 2021 budget proposal is expected to be released Feb. 10

The renewed focus on hypersonics over the past few years has come as rivals Russia and China have reported progress developing their own systems, which have required the Pentagon to boost both its research into offensive and defensive capabilities. Russia last fall announced that its Avangard nuclear-armed hypersonic missile would be operational in December, according to news reports. It claimed it could fly 20 times the speed of sound.

Hypersonic technology is loosely defined as systems that can fly at speeds of more than Mach 5 and also be highly maneuverable, making them difficult to detect and defeat.

Long-range fires is one of the Pentagon’s top technology development priorities, he said. “Winning future conflicts requires us to stay ahead of our competitors growing anti-access/ area denial capabilities,” he said, and hypersonics is a part of that push.

Despite the budget boosts and news reports detailing progress on the technology emerging from Russia and China, Esper denied that there was a hypersonics arms race. It did not resemble the Cold War, an era in which he came of age, he said.

“Hypersonics are just another weapons system that have unique features,” he said. “I don’t see an arms race, per se. … We are always competing against the next generation of weapons systems and this is one of them.”

The United States had early breakthroughs in the field, and now needs to “double down on that,” he said.

“I think it’s another arrow in our quiver that we need to have and we need to develop and modify. And based on the needs of our combatant commanders, we will deploy them in close consultation with our partners and allies,” Esper said.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Budget

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