Government to Shell Out $15 Billion for Hypersonics

By Jon Harper

NASA photo

Between fiscal years 2015 and 2024, federal agencies will have spent about $15 billion on hypersonic weapons and related technologies, according to projections by a watchdog group.

The Government Accountability Office has identified 70 efforts across the Defense Department, Department of Energy and NASA, according to its recent report, “Hypersonic Weapons: DoD Should Clarify Roles and Responsibilities to Ensure Coordination Across Development Efforts.”

“DoD accounts for nearly all of this” $15 billion in projected spending during the aforementioned 10-year period, the study said. “The majority of the funding is for product development and potential fielding of prototype offensive hypersonic weapons. Additionally, it includes substantial investments in developing technologies for next-generation hypersonic weapons and a smaller proportion aimed at countering hypersonic threats.”

The Air Force, Army and Navy are all pursuing these types of capabilities, and other agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have been involved in advancing the technology.

“Hypersonic weapon systems are technically complex, and the DoD has attempted to address challenges posed by immature technologies and aggressive schedules by pursuing multiple potential technological solutions so that it has options,” the study noted.

However, there is room for improvement, according to GAO.

The Defense Department “has not documented the roles, responsibilities and authorities of the multitude of its organizations, including the military services, that are working on” these capabilities, the report said. As a result, “DoD is at risk of impeding its progress toward delivering hypersonic weapon capabilities and opening up the potential for conflict and wasted resources as decisions over larger investments are made in the future.”

To address this problem, the secretary of defense should define and document the roles, responsibilities and authorities of the leadership positions and organizations in the department responsible for the development and acquisition of hypersonics, GAO recommended. The Pentagon concurred with the recommendation, according to the report.

Dr. Mark J. Lewis, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Institute, said the Pentagon has made remarkable advances and is getting closer to fielding systems.

“We can always improve the technology, but at this point I honestly believe our remaining challenges are more policy and infrastructure than technical,” he told National Defense. “We know hypersonic systems work. Now it’s just a matter of being able to design, test and deploy these systems in a timely and efficient manner.”

— Additional reporting by Stew Magnuson

Topics: Budget, Emerging Technologies

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