JUST IN: Hypersonic Weapons Budget Expected to Remain Steady

By Connie Lee

Turbosquid 3-D illustration

Despite hypersonics dropping down the Defense Department's priority list a few notches, funding for the the game-changing technology is expected to remain steady, a Pentagon official said.

“I will say it has not impacted it,” Mike White, assistant director for hypersonics at the office of the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said Sept. 30 at Defense One’s online Tech Talk. “The reason why hypersonics has drifted down a little bit in the priority behind microelectronics, mainly is the fact that we're on a good path — that we've kind of got the ship moving in the right direction.”

Hypersonic research involves weapons or aircraft that can travels at speeds of Mach 5, or higher, and systems designed to defeat them. Competitors Russia and China are also pursuing the technology.

Former Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin first marked the capability as the department’s top focus area in 2017. But in June this year, the department switched up its list to put hypersonics in the No. 3 slot, with microelectronics at the top followed by 5G.

White noted that the budget for hypersonic weapons has already dramatically increased in the last few years in a push to move it from phase one test and evaluation prototypes to phase two concept demonstrations. Since 2016, the amount allocated for the capability has risen from about $350 million a year to about $3.2 billion to $3.5 billion, he said.

“I couldn't be happier with the energy and importance the department is placing on hypersonics,” White said. “I think the budgets currently and in the future will reflect that.”

The Pentagon already has a plan in place to transition its efforts to the third phase, he noted, which will involve fielding prototypes. Hypersonics is still in the research-and-development phase and has yet to transition to programs of record.

“And we're working the groundwork through what we call an ‘industrial base war room’ to be able to make sure we're on pace to move from phase three to phase four and ultimately put in place programs of record and capability phasing plans to give us robust capability for the future,” he said.

Earlier this year, Pentagon officials announced that the “war room” is focused on determining the defense industry’s ability to mass produce these platforms.

Additionally, the Defense Department is continuing to only focus on conventional and regional hypersonic weapons, although near-peer competitors Russia and China have both stated that they are developing nuclear systems as well, he said. Developing a platform that can hit its target precisely has obstacles, he noted.

“There is a challenge associated with guidance and control and getting to a target set,” he said. “That challenge is really how well we can strike a given target.”

However, the Pentagon is not looking to spark a hypersonics arms “race” with Russia and China, he noted.

“We aren't developing hypersonic strike systems to go against adversary hypersonic strike systems,” he said. “We're developing hypersonic strike systems because of the unique warfighting attributes of range, speed, maneuverability and, therefore survivability … and lethality.”

Topics: Budget

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