JUST IN: Hyten Concerned With Pace of Hypersonics, Counter-UAS Tech

By Meredith Roaten

Defense Dept. photo

Amid reports of a Chinese hypersonic missile test, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told reporters Oct. 28 that the slow pace of technology development is a problem for the Pentagon’s ability to deter China.

Last week the Financial Times reported that over the summer China had tested a hypersonic missile — a maneuverable projectile capable of traveling at speeds over Mach 5. If the Defense Department wants to stay ahead, it needs to cut through bureaucracy to field capabilities like hypersonics and counter-unmanned aerial systems, Hyten said weeks before his retirement.

“The Department of Defense is still unbelievably bureaucratic and slow,” he said at a Defense Writers Group event. “I would encourage my successor, in everything that he touches, to focus on speed and reinserting speed back into the processes of the Pentagon.”

The Chinese demonstration was “close to” a Sputnik moment for the country, said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaking to Bloomberg Television on Oct. 27.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. And it is very concerning,” he said during an interview.

While China has performed “hundreds” of hypersonic missile tests, the U.S. military can only claim test numbers in the “single digits,” Hyten said. The Pentagon has fallen behind in the hypersonic development race because it won’t test systems until it’s “highly confident” it will work, unlike China who is not afraid to fail and “move fast.”

“We have not done that in this country. We better do that or eventually, even though they're behind, China will pass us,” he said.

The pillars of the joint warfighting concept will allow experimentation in all technology sectors to move faster in the future, Hyten noted. But assuring funding for experiments in a timely manner is still a challenge.

“We're meeting with Congress and trying to work through ways to accelerate this process and get through because many in the Congress understand this threat and understand that we have to move quickly against it,” he said.

Directed energy weapons have the potential to defend against hypersonic vehicles, but there has not been enough investment in the technology in recent years, he added.

“If we want to get after that, we need to invest in that,” he said

The Army is currently working on a Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense system that is expected to be deployed in 2022.

Based on China’s hypersonic weapon development and other capabilities, it is clear the country is moving past its minimum deterrence strategy, Hyten said.

“All the hypersonic weapons they're building, all of the nuclear weapons they're building, are not meant for their own population. … It is meant for the United States of America, and we have to assume that we have to plan for that, and we have to be ready for that,” he said.

Additionally, the Pentagon risks falling behind in the fight against unmanned aerial threats, Hyten noted. He pointed to U.S. bases in Syria that are vulnerable to strikes. 

UAVs are advancing in the commercial sector rapidly in a matter of months, much slower than the military can up with the capability to defeat them, he said. He mentioned the Army-led effort to develop capabilities that will fight off small unmanned aerial vehicles.

“While the commercial technology is advancing every six months, and we put it into a development process that take years,” he said. “We can't be doing that.”

Topics: Emerging Technologies

Comments (1)

Re: Hyten Concerned With Pace of Hypersonics, Counter-UAS Tech

I think that a lot of this rhetoric is political. The US DoD can buy and create weapons that can counter Hypersonic missiles and we do make them---sold to an overseas nation---but we didn't buy any. These SAMs fly at Mach 10-15+ and are available now, and I don't mean Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD.

The 747 Airborne Laser (ABL) can be reborn. 747 ABL was too premature for its time, using a heavy, expensive, highly toxic slew of chemicals to fire a laser 20 times. Now with solid state electronics and powerful battery packs, try resurrecting the Airborne Laser again without the chemical stew.

The political problem is that the US has made some poor, bad, or no decisions to put it into this predicament. The use of radar blimps along the Southern border didn't go according to plan, but the US excels in radar, VLS, and ISR technology that I'm positive can detect Hypersonics. It can build some AEGIS Ashore bases along the coasts or create better defenses and detection systems in space if the will and political power is there. However, the US political system seems overwhelmed by the "Cry Wolf" issue of Party politics, funding, Pork Barrel, grandstanding, and stubborn attitudes that hinder National Defense and National Security. If the US DoD REALLY wants to defend against Hypersonic missiles, then I believe it just needs to sign the checks because the systems are already there COTS.

Cenebar at 9:33 PM
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