US Department of Defense Accelerates Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Testing
US Department of Defense Accelerates Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Testing

US Department of Defense Accelerates Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Testing

The March 19 test of a hypersonic glide body at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii is just the start for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the assistant director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering said, and after ample flight testing, the department will move toward developing weapons from the concepts it’s been testing. Hypersonic weapons move faster than anything currently being used, giving adversaries far less time to react, and they provide a much harder target to counteract with interceptors. White said DOD is developing hypersonic weapons that can travel anywhere between Mach 5 and Mach 20.

US  Department of Defense Accelerates Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Testing
A common hypersonic glide body launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, during a Defense Department flight experiment, March 19, 2020. (Photo By: U.S. Navy)

“Over the next 12 months really what we will see is continued acceleration of the development of offensive hypersonic systems. The March test of the hypersonic glide body successfully demonstrated a capability to perform intermediate-range hypersonic boost, glide and strike. That test begins a very active flight test season over the next year, and beyond, to take concepts now under development within the department and prove them with additional tests. A number of our programs across the portfolio will realize flight test demonstration over the next 12 months and then start the transition from weapon system concept development to actual weapon system development moving forward” Michael E. White said during an online panel discussion hosted by Defense One.

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US  Department of Defense Accelerates Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Testing
Air Force Cadet 2nd Class Eric Hembling uses a Ludwieg tube, a type of wind tunnel, to measure the pressures, temperatures and flow fields of basic geometric and hypersonic research vehicles at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 31, 2019. (Photo By: Joshua Armstrong, Air Force)

At one time, the United States had the lead in hypersonic research. The Air Force X-51 program, which last flew in 2013 and then was discontinued. It was a different world then, and the decision at the time was to not invest in the technology. Russia and China most obviously — recognized the importance of the technology and began their own programs. Now, the United States must not only build an offensive capability, but also must handle the defensive portion. DOD is now working with the Space Development Agency on the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor to address tracking of hypersonics. That system is part of the larger national defense space architecture. U.S. DOD via the Space Development Agency is investing in this capability.

A target missile launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii during Flight Test Standard Missile-45, Oct. 26, 2018.
A target missile launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii during Flight Test Standard Missile-45, Oct. 26, 2018.(Photo By: Mark Wright, DOD)
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