EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

BREAKING: Pentagon Tests New Hypersonic Glide Body

3/20/2020
By Jon Harper
Common hypersonic glide body launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii.

The Army and Navy tested a hypersonic glide body technology this week, a major milestone for developing a new family of high-speed weapons, the Defense Department announced March 20.

Hypersonic systems are expected to give the U.S. military a new quick-strike capability against advanced adversaries such as China and Russia. They are a top Pentagon research-and-engineering priority.

“Hypersonic weapons, capable of flying at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), are highly maneuverable and operate at varying altitudes,” the Defense Department said in a press release. “This provides the warfighter with an ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away in a matter of minutes, to defeat a wide range of high-value targets.”

The Pentagon plans to buy the weapons on a large scale once the technology is mature enough to be fielded.

On March 19 the Army and Navy jointly tested a glide body, also known as C-HGB, in a flight experiment conducted from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, at approximately 10:30 p.m. local time. The glide body successfully flew at hypersonic speeds and hit a designated impact point, the release said. It did not provide the top speed that the vehicle achieved.

Information gathered from the test will further inform the military’s hypersonic technology development. The event was a major milestone in the Pentagon’s effort to field systems in the early- to mid-2020s, according to the release.

"In this test we put additional stresses on the system and it was able to handle them all,” said Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director of the Navy's strategic systems programs. “We validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability."

The C-HGB will include a conventional warhead, guidance system, cabling and thermal protection shield. Industry is working closely with the services to develop the capability, with the Navy as the lead designer and the Army as the lead for production.

Both the Navy and Army will use the C-HGB, while developing individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from ships or ground-based platforms, the release noted. The joint effort is intended to facilitate economies of scale as the Pentagon seeks to boost the defense industrial base’s ability to produce large quantities of the new systems. The Air Force, meanwhile, is working on its own air-launched hypersonic weapons.

"This test was a critical step in rapidly delivering operational hypersonic capabilities to our warfighters,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition. His office is leading the Army's Long Range Hypersonic Weapon program and joint C-HGB production.

"We successfully executed a mission consistent with how we can apply this capability in the future … and we will continue to move aggressively to get prototypes to the field,” he added.

Mike White, assistant director for hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said the glide body is now ready for transition to new weapon system development efforts. He described the future weapons as a “transformational” warfighting capability.

The March 19 test will also contribute to military initiatives to defeat enemy hypersonics, another top priority for the Pentagon’s R&E office. The United States’ great power competitors China and Russia are working on their own offensive weapons. Their high-speed and maneuverability will challenge existing U.S. air-and-missile defense systems, which are designed to shoot down more traditional ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Missile Defense Agency monitored and gathered tracking data from the flight experiment that will inform its ongoing development of counter-hypersonic systems, the release noted.

“MDA is working closely with [the] Army and Navy in sharing data that will inform their development of enhanced capabilities for a layered hypersonic defense to support warfighter need and outpace the adversary threat,” it said.

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