US Military Technology


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – An Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Test Center ground test team set a record for the highest thrust produced by an air-breathing hypersonic engine in Air Force history.

“AFRL, in conjunction with Arnold Engineering Development Complex and Northrop Grumman, achieved over 13,000 pounds of thrust from a scramjet engine during testing at Arnold Air Force Base,” said Todd Barhorst, AFRL aerospace engineer and lead for the Medium Scale Critical Components program.

The 18-foot-long Northrop Grumman engine endured a half hour of accumulated combustion time during the nine months of testing.

“The series of tests, ran in conjunction with AEDC and AFRL, on this fighter-engine sized scramjet was truly remarkable,” said Pat Nolan, vice president, missile products, Northrop Grumman. “The scramjet successfully ran across a range of hypersonic Mach numbers for unprecedented run times, demonstrating that our technology is leading the way in delivering large scale hypersonic platforms to our warfighters.”

“The plan for a larger and faster hypersonic air breathing engine was established 10 years ago during the X-51 test program, as the Air Force recognized the need to push the boundaries of hypersonic research,” Barhorst said. “A new engine with 10-times the flow of the X-51 would allow for a new class of scramjet vehicles.”

An evaluation of the nation’s test facilities concluded that none could test an engine at this large of a scale in a thermally-relevant environment. To address the issue, AEDC’s Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit facility underwent a two-year upgrade to enable large-scale scramjet combustor tests over the required range of test conditions. The AEDC team also successfully leveraged technology developed by CFD Research Corporation under the Small Business Innovative Research program. This technology proved crucial in achieving most of the required test conditions.

“Our collective team has worked hard over the past few years to get to where we are today,” said Sean Smith, lead for the AEDC Hypersonic Systems Combined Test Force ground test team. “We’ve encountered numerous challenges along the way that we’ve been able to overcome thanks to the dedication and creativity of the team. We’ve learned quite a bit, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. These groundbreaking tests will lead the way for future hypersonic vehicles for a range of missions.”

“After years of hard work, performing analysis and getting hardware ready, it was a great sense of fulfillment completing the first successful test of the world’s largest hydrocarbon fueled scramjet,” added Barhorst.


The AEDC Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit at Arnold Air Force Base supports recent testing for the Air Force Research Laboratory Medium Scale Critical Components Scramjet program. The Northrop Grumman-produced engine was successfully operated at conditions above Mach 4 and has set the record for highest thrust produced by an air-breathing hypersonic engine in Air Force history. (U.S. Air Force photo/Holly Jordan)


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
Lockheed Job Listing Offers New Details About Long-Range Ground-Launched Hypersonic Weapon

Lockheed Job Listing Offers New Details About Long-Range Ground-Launched Hypersonic Weapon
The Operational Fires system is intended to be a tactical weapon for the Army and could help in clearing paths for follow-on air and missile strikes.



ALockheed Martin job posting has offered new details about the design and development schedule of a tactical, ground-launched hypersonic weapon that the U.S. Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on together. The company won the contract to proceed to the third phase of this program, known as Operational Fires, or OpFires, two weeks ago.

Steve Trimble, Aviation Week's defense editor and good friend of The War Zone spotted the job opening for a "Staff SRM [solid rocket motor] Propulsion Engineer" at Lockheed Martin's facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, on Jan. 20, 2020, and shared it on Twitter. The posting itself is dated Dec. 17, 2019. This was in advance of the Maryland-headquartered defense giant officially getting the Phase 3 OpFires contract, worth just under $32 million, on Jan. 10. Phase 1 had wrapped up in 2019 and Phase 2, which involves further development and testing of various components of the system, is ongoing now. Phase 3 will involve Lockheed Martin integrating the various pieces into a complete weapon system and conducting an end-to-end test, presently scheduled to take place in 2022.






"The [OpFires] Program will be entering Phase 3, Weapon System Integration and Demonstration Phase, a three-phase effort for integrated system design, development, and flight test," the job listing says. "The propulsion engineer will need to have the ability to work with different suppliers, including the ability to evaluate the designs and technologies of motors in the 32-inch diameter size, and make recommendations for down-select on both rocket motor stages to both internal and external (DARPA) customers."

The intended "payload" in the OpFires system will be an unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. The rocket booster will propel it to an optimal altitude and speed, after which it will glide in a relatively level trajectory inside the atmosphere to its target at extremely high speeds.


An artist's conception of the OpFires system in action.

The job posting further explains that Phase 3 will include two separate competitions to pick solid-fuel rocket motors for both the first and the second stage of the Lockheed Martin's OpFires weapon design. It says that the first stage will have a traditional rocket motor, while the second stage will feature one with throttleable thrust.

"The second stage motor development has been ongoing for DARPA as part of their Phase 2 activity, and the continued development of the second stage will transfer to Lockheed Martin oversight during Phase 3a – with a down-select of the current 3 designs," Lockheed Martin's job notice says. In October 2019, DARPA released video footage that showed subscale rocket motor tests that Aerojet Rocketdyne, a team consisting of Exquadrum and Dynetics, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation had conducted as part of Phase 1.

Outwardly, OpFires is similar, in broad strokes, to the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), another road-mobile system that the Army is developing separately in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force and Navy, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone story. However, the LRHW will use the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB), a conical, unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, as its warhead. The Air Force's air-launched AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and the Navy's submarine-launched Intermediate-Range Conventional Prompt Strike (IR-CPS) weapon will also use this joint-service boost-glide vehicle.

OpFires will use its two-stage rocket to launch DARPA's Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, instead. TBG is a more complex half-cone design, which aims to be faster, more maneuverable, and have greater accuracy than the C-HGB.


An artist's conception of DARPA's previousl Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). The Tactical Boost Glide vehicle is reportedly similar to this design.


A rendering of a conical hypersonic boost-glide vehicle the US Army had developed under the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon program. The Common Hypersonic Glide Body is reportedly a similar design.

Ostensibly, the general mission of OpFires is similar to that of LRHW, as well. The goal of the road-mobile OpFires is to provide valuable long-range strike capability, especially against time-sensitive targets. The range and speed that a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle offers, as well as its ability to maneuver in the atmosphere to dodge defenses and otherwise hit targets from unpredictable vectors, present obvious benefits to commanders on the ground. DARPA has said in the past, that the TBG vehicle could have a maximum speed of up to Mach 20, giving it the ability to hit opponents thousands of miles away in a matter of minutes.

OpFires promises to be more capable and flexible than LRHW, because of the half-cone hypersonic boost-glide vehicle and, perhaps more importantly, the throttleable rocket motor. This is significant because the ability to throttle back the second-stage rocket motor means that this weapon system could have a shorter minimum range, meaning it could engage threats closer to the launch site, as well as a broader overall engagement envelope. Being able to hit widely different ranges with extreme speed and accuracy with the same weapon system would be very useful in a variety of operational scenarios, especially in any future distributed operations, where friendly forces may be situated across an especially broad area.

Steve Trimble@TheDEWLine · Jan 15, 2020
Lockheed has now won prime contractor roles on six hypersonic missiles: DARPA’s air- launched TBG & HAWC and now ground-launched OpFires. Plus, Air Force’s HCSW & ARRW, Army’s LRHW & Navy’s IRCPS. DARPA also funds Raytheon’s rivals for TBG and HAWC, but Lockheed is clear leader.
Steve Trimble@TheDEWLine
OpFires is a novel concept. Ground-launched like LRHW, but with a throttled upper-stage booster, so greater flexibility for shorter-range targets. Aerojet, Exquadrum and Sierra Nevada are competing to supply upper-stage atop 32-inch diameter lower stage. Front-end comes from TBG.
1011:46 AM - Jan 15, 2020 · Alexandria, VATwitter Ads info and privacy
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One of the most readily apparent uses for OpFires would be as a ground-based tool to suppress or destroy hostile air and missiles defenses, mission sets also referred to as SEAD/DEAD, clearing the way for follow-on strikes by friendly aircraft and air-, sea-, or ground-launched missiles. Though any asset can perform this mission, aircraft and cruise missiles are the tools the U.S. most commonly employs for SEAD/DEAD operations. Using aircraft is inherently risky, even for modern stealth combat aircraft with standoff weapons, and existing cruise missiles are also slower and more vulnerable to hostile defenses than future systems, such as OpFires.

The Army is already exploring how it might be able to use existing and future stand-off ground-based strike capabilities to assist in this mission using targeting information from aerial platforms, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which you can read about in much greater detail in this past War Zone piece. OpFires concept art, seen earlier in this story, shows the use of space-based sensors for standoff targeting, as well.

Phase 2 of OpFires is set to wrap up later this year, after which Lockheed Martin will begin Phase 3 and start actively testing various components and subsystems, including the chosen first and second-stage rocket motors. Those tests are set to continue into 2021 and lead to a Critical Design Review, after which, DARPA and the Army hope that the final design will be ready for actual flight testing in 2022. This is also when the Army intends to test the LRHW for the first time, though the service is planning to rush that system into service, at least to a limited degree, by 2023. When OpFires might actually become operational is unclear.

All of this comes amid a massive surge, in general, in the development of hypersonic weapons across the U.S. military, as well as among potential opponents, such as Russia and China. Still, OpFires is an especially interesting program that promises unique capabilities and flexibility over other hypersonic weapons that the United States has in the works.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
America’s missile defense cannot afford a decade-long gap

America’s missile defense cannot afford a decade-long gap

Steven P. Bucci

Defense NewsFebruary 6, 2020

America is facing a decision point with regard to our national ballistic missile defense capability. Do we chose protection today, protection tomorrow, or try to cover both? We cannot afford to forget the future, nor can we go naked into the briar patch today. We have to adequately protect both. In this threat environment, we cannot have a gap in our defenses.

The Pentagon recently made a prudent decision to invest in our future protection. This decision can be seen as placing our proverbial missile defense eggs in one basket we called Next Generation Interceptor, or NGI. That project is on target to be combat-ready at the earliest by the year 2030. Alone, however, it is not sufficient.

The threats Americans face on the global stage are real and constantly changing, but one thing remains constant: The most likely threat to our assets abroad and in the homeland will depend on the use of short- and longer-range ballistic missiles.

Traditional foes like Russia and China are investing heavily in hypersonic weaponry. North Korea is just as volatile as it has ever been, and an evermore aggressive Iran keeps us all aware of just how precarious the situation is in the Middle East. The hatred motivating Iran and its numerous proxies led to them recently launching over a dozen missiles at bases in the Middle East.

No Americans were killed in the launch; however, many service members have been diagnosed with brain injuries. Analysis of the attacks show that Iran may not have been as “off” with its targeting as the low casualty count would indicate. Perhaps by providing advanced warning, Iran’s intention was not to kill Americans after all. We may have just been fortunate that they did not want to further provoke our ire. Regardless, the bottom line was that we lacked the missile defense to combat the Iranians and protect our assets.

Here’s why Patriot missile defense systems aren’t in Iraq yet

America often takes inventory of what offensive capabilities our military has when tension rises across the globe. We proudly highlight the strength of our naval forces, the newest technology that can “reach out and touch” our adversaries, and have boots on the ground in anywhere in a moment’s notice. However, it is that reliance on offensive prowess that often causes us to gloss over defense assets we should have to truly protect the homeland.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
MDA taps industry to build interceptor to defend against hypersonic threats

MDA taps industry to build interceptor to defend against hypersonic threats
By: Jen Judson   18 hours ago

An intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from a truck-mounted launcher somewhere in Russia. The Russian military said the Avangard hypersonic weapon has entered combat duty. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is tapping industry to design and build an interceptor capable of defending against regional hypersonic weapons threats, releasing a draft request for proposals to build prototypes.

The request directs industry to submit whitepapers by March 19 to build a Hypersonic Defense Regional Glide Phase Weapons System interceptor, with plans to select at least one prime contractor to build a prototype that would culminate in a flight test, according to the draft RFP issued Jan. 30 and posted to, the federal government’s contact opportunities website.

The agency notes that negotiations following review of whitepapers and oral presentations could result in no awards, one or multiple.

By building a flight test vehicle under the program, MDA hopes to better understand the technical utility of such a regional hypersonic defensive system and “will provide a pathway to subsequent tactical interceptor and fire control capability,” the document states.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017

Mosaic Warfare: Exploiting Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems to Implement Decision-Centric Operations
February 11, 2020 Bryan Clark, Daniel Patt, Harrison Schramm
Resources: Future Warfare & Concepts

The United States is increasingly engaged in a long-term competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation–a competition in which U.S. defense leaders and experts argue the U.S. military is falling behind technologically and operationally. U.S. forces, however, may be unable to gain and maintain superiority over their great power competitors by simply using improved versions of today’s forces to conduct modest variations on existing tactics. The capabilities DoD developed to help win the Cold War—including stealth aircraft, precision weapons, and communication networks—have proliferated to other militaries, and potential adversaries had ample opportunity to observe U.S. operations during post-Cold War conflicts.

Instead of competing with other great powers using capabilities and operational concepts that have already proliferated to adversaries, the U.S. military should consider new approaches to warfare that offer the potential of gaining a prolonged advantage. During the Cold War, for example, the United States was able to combine prominent emerging technologies with new operational concepts to overcome the numerically superiority of Soviet forces; first with nuclear weapons and later with precision weapons and stealth.

Emerging operational concepts such as Multi-Domain Operations and Distributed Maritime Operations are designed to improve the ability of U.S. forces to survive and destroy enemy units. To better address the operational challenges presented by great power competitors, this DARPA-sponsored study proposes that DoD should instead embrace operational concepts that succeed by making faster and better decisions than adversaries, rather than through attrition. Instead of attempting to destroy an adversary’s forces until it can no longer fight or succeed, a decision-centric approach to warfare would impose multiple dilemmas on an enemy to prevent it from achieving its objectives. The report describes one example of decision-centric operations, called Mosaic Warfare, its implications for DoD operations and force development, and its potential effectiveness based on a series of wargames.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
Thinking Machines Will Change Future Warfare

Deterrence in the Age of Thinking Machines
by Yuna Huh Wong, John M. Yurchak, Robert W. Button, Aaron Frank, Burgess Laird, Osonde A. Osoba, Randall Steeb, Benjamin N. Harris, Sebastian Joon Bae

Format File Size Notes PDF file0.8 MB
Technical Details »
Research Questions
  1. What are the implications of adding thinking machines and autonomous systems to the practices that countries have developed to signal one another about the use of force and its potential consequences?
  2. What happens to deterrence and escalation when decisions can be made at machine speeds and are carried out by forces that do not risk human lives of the using state or actor?
  3. How might the rise of these capabilities weaken or strengthen deterrence?
  4. What are potential areas of miscalculation and unintended consequences?
The greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems by the militaries of the world has the potential to affect deterrence strategies and escalation dynamics in crises and conflicts. Up until now, deterrence has involved humans trying to dissuade other humans from taking particular courses of action. What happens when the thinking and decision processes involved are no longer purely human? How might dynamics change when decisions and actions can be taken at machine speeds? How might AI and autonomy affect the ways that countries have developed to signal one another about the potential use of force? What are potential areas for miscalculation and unintended consequences, and unwanted escalation in particular?

This exploratory report provides an initial examination of how AI and autonomous systems could affect deterrence and escalation in conventional crises and conflicts. Findings suggest that the machine decisionmaking can result in inadvertent escalation or altered deterrence dynamics, due to the speed of machine decisionmaking, the ways in which it differs from human understanding, the willingness of many countries to use autonomous systems, our relative inexperience with them, and continued developments of these capabilities. Current planning and development efforts have not kept pace with how to handle the potentially destabilizing or escalatory issues associated with these new technologies, and it is essential that planners and decisionmakers begin to think about these issues before fielded systems are engaged in conflict.

Key Findings
Insights from a wargame involving AI and autonomous systems
  • Manned systems may be better for deterrence than unmanned ones.
  • Replacing manned systems with unmanned ones may not be seen as a reduced security commitment.
  • Players put their systems on different autonomous settings to signal resolve and commitment during the conflict.
  • The speed of autonomous systems did lead to inadvertent escalation in the wargame.
Implications for deterrence
  • Autonomous and unmanned systems could affect extended deterrence and our ability to assure our allies of U.S. commitment.
  • Widespread AI and autonomous systems could lead to inadvertent escalation and crisis instability.
  • Different mixes of human and artificial agents could affect the escalatory dynamics between two sides.
  • Machines will likely be worse at understanding the human signaling involved deterrence, especially deescalation.
  • Whereas traditional deterrence has largely been about humans attempting to understand other humans, deterrence in this new age involves understanding along a number of additional pathways.
  • Past cases of inadvertent engagement of friendly or civilian targets by autonomous systems may offer insights about the technical accidents or failures involving more-advanced systems.
  • Conduct further work on deterrence theory and other frameworks to explicitly consider the potential effects of AI and autonomous systems.
  • Evaluate the escalatory potential of new systems.
  • Evaluate the escalatory potential of new operating concepts.
  • Wargame additional scenarios at the operational and strategic levels.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
Army Ramps Up Funding For Laser Shield, Hypersonic Sword

Army Ramps Up Funding For Laser Shield, Hypersonic Sword
Research and development spending on hypersonics will nearly double in ‘21, and it will triple for lasers, as the service rushes to deploy combat-ready prototypes.
By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR.on February 28, 2020 at 10:39 AM

Notional flight paths of hypersonic boost-glide missiles, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. (CSBA graphic)

WASHINGTON: With adversaries amassing long-range precision weapons, the Army is asking Congress for more than $1 billion in 2021 to develop hypersonic missiles for offense and missile-killing lasers for defense. Hypersonics funding is up 86 percent from last year and high energy lasers soared a stunning 209 percent.

The aim of all this money is to move technology out of the lab and into mass production, so the service can field its first 50-kilowatt lasers on Stryker armored vehicles in 2022, its first truck-launched hypersonics in 2023, and truck-mounted lasers in the 100-300 kW class in 2024.

Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood

The Army wants these technologies so urgently it’s devoted a unique unit to developing them, the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office. RCCTO’s priority is so high that its director, Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, told me he speaks to the Amy’s civilian acquisition executive, Bruce Jette, and the head of Army Futures Command, Gen. John “Mike” Murray, “multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day.” As for the Army’s top four leaders – Sec. Ryan McCarthy, Undersec. James McPherson, Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, and Vice-Chief Gen. Joseph Martin – Thurgood meets with them “multiple times throughout the month.”

Why so much urgency and high-level attention?

Strategic Offense, Operational Defense

“Our potential adversaries have created the A2/AD environment,” Thurgood told me in an interview. That’s short for Anti-Access/Area Denial, the Pentagon term of art for the dense layered defenses of long-range weapons – anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and ground attack – that Russia, China, and even North Korea and Iran are building to keep US forces at bay.


Flexibility On The Fly
Joint Strike Missile Has Abilities That Give Pilots The Upper Hand.


“In order to move forces into that, you’ve got to create lanes of penetration,” Thurgood said. “Hypersonics is a strategic weapon that does that.”

The Army wants hypersonics for precision non-nuclear strikes against high-priority linchpins of the enemy defense, like hardened command posts and anti-aircraft systems. That should rip open seams in the A2/AD zone through which other forces – not just Army but Air Force, Marine, and Navy as well – can advance in what’s called a Joint All Domain Operation, much like how Panzers and Stukas led the way for German infantry during the blitzkrieg.

SOURCE: Army Multi-Domain Operations Concept, December 2018.

But the US must also protect its own forces from the enemy’s long-range missiles. Today, that’s the role of missile defense systems like Patriot, THAAD, and Aegis. But shooting down a missile with another missile is an expensive proposition. An interceptor that can hit another missile in flight is much more sophisticated and expensive than a missile that can hit a target on the ground: A Patriot costs $3 million, about the same as three Scuds. So a well-resourced attacker like Russia or China can “flood the zone” with cheap offensive missiles until the missile defenders run out of shots.

Hence the attraction of laser weapons, which not only shoot at the speed of light – making an intercept much easier – but also can keep shooting as long as they have electrical power. Lasers have their limits, however. Bad weather bothers them more than it does missiles, and their energy output is still too low to defeat most targets, although the Pentagon has an urgent joint effort underway to ramp up power.

RecommendedHypersonic Missiles: Plethora Of Boost-Glide & Cruise
“At this point we don’t want to see an either/or — we actually want to see both technologies pursued,” Lewis said of DoD’s pursuit of hypersonic boost-glide and cruise missile efforts.


At least for the near term, while hypersonics are what the Army is calling strategic fires, “directed energy is much more on that tactical/operational side,” Thurgood told me. Those are very much for what we would call a point defense or an area defense. Not really at this point do we have lasers that are strategic weapons. My assessment is that technology is still advancing towards that end game.”

Timelines & Transitions

The most tactical system, with the lowest power and the earlier fielding date, is the roughly 50-kilowatt weapon being developed to go on the Stryker armored vehicle. This laser goes by the acronym DE-SHORAD, which is mercifully short for Directed Energy – Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense. The Army is already building MSHORAD Strykers that will use guns and missiles to shoot down enemy drones, helicopters, and even low-flying attack jets. But it is eager to add laser weapons to the mix, starting with an initial platoon of four vehicles in 2022.

Stryker anti-aircraft variant, IM-SHORAD (Interim Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense), armed with guns and missiles. A laser-armed variant will enter service in 2022.

While 8×8 Stryker can keep up with frontline mechanized forces over rough terrain, it can’t carry a laser large enough to defeat cruise missiles. That’s the role of the IFPC High Energy Laser, a roughly 300-kW weapon mounted on a heavy tuck.

As with MSHORAD, there are other versions of IFPC, the Indirect Fire Protection Capability, that use more conventional weapons such as missiles. IFPC will hang back behind the front, covering command posts and other crucial targets that aren’t constantly on the move.

“The DE-MSHORAD is on a Stryker there because they go with the maneuver force,” Thurgood said. “IFPC’s on a truck for fixed and semi-fixed locations.”

Thurgood’s role at RCCTO is to field combat-capable prototypes of these technologies – an initial platoon or battery of each to prove out the technology, experiment with tactics, and if necessary fight.

As each weapon matures and moves into the field, he explained, his RCCTO will hand it over the Army’s normal acquisition organization, the Program Executive Office for Missiles & Space, led by Maj. Gen. Robert Rash. Rash’s PEO already has a transition team embedded with Thurgood’s RCCTO for each weapon to smooth the handover. If all proceeds as planned, then each weapon will move from RCCTO to the PEO a year after its initial fielding and become a formal Program Of Record:

  • The first platoon of 50-kW Strykers will enter service in 2022, and the DE-SHORAD effort will transition to PEO Missiles & Space in 2023.
  • The first battery of Long-Range Hypersonic Weapons will enter service in 2023, and the LRHW effort will transition to the PEO in 2024.
  • The 300-kW truck-borne laser will enter service in 2024, and the IFPC High Energy Laser effort will transition to the PEO in 2025.
Show Me the Money

If you look at the recently released budget request for 2021, you’ll see funding in the Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation (RDTE) accounts for all these weapons. Most of it falls under Advanced Technology Development and Advanced Component Development & Prototypes: These are levels 3 and 4 respectively on an scale from Budget Activity 1, Basic Research, to Budget Activity 7, Operational System Development.

What you won’t see is the procurement funding for the PEO to actually start mass-producing hypersonics or lasers once Thurgood hands them over.

“They’re working on that,” Thurgood told me. “You’ll probably see that in about ’22” – that is, as part of next year’s budget request for fiscal 2022. But before the Army can nail down those numbers, he said, the service’s headquarters staff in the Pentagon has to figure out how many batteries it wants of each, which in turn depends on how the new technology fits into its evolving concepts of future conflict and specific joint war plans.

Breaking Defense graphic from Army FY21 budget data

That said, the RCCTO is laying the groundwork for mass production. The challenge here is that, while there are plenty of private companies building lasers for industrial cutting, and a fair number of defense contractors building booster rockets that can get a hypersonic weapon up to speed, there is no industrial base to mass-produce hypersonic glide bodies, the part of the weapon that actually strikes the target. The technology is too new and its manufacture too challenging.

In fact, the Common Glide Body that both the Army and Navy hypersonic missiles will use was developed and is still being built, not by any defense contractor, but by Sandia National Laboratory, a government-owned facility most famous for research on nuclear weapons. Starting last year, the Army has contracted with private-sector companies like Dynetics to build facilities for mass production. Those companies now have teams at Sandia learning about the technology from its inventors.

Why not just keep the work in the lab? “Labs are great, they do wonderful work, but they’re not necessarily great producers of multiples of things,” Thurgood said. “We’ve got to get out of the craftsman lab approach into a commercialized approach. That’s what’s happening right now.”

“There’s not a single prime doing all this work,” he added. “It’s actually about four or five major contracts and then a bunch of minor contracts.”

Dynetics concept for their Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB)

In the interests of speed and efficiency, there’s a marked amount of inter-service cooperation underway. The Army manages the contract to build the Common Glide Body – the most technically challenging piece of the weapon – and gets reimbursed out of the Navy budget for glide bodies that go the sea service. Conversely, the Navy manages the contract to build the rocket booster or “stack”– which, while less bleeding-edge, is still literally rocket science – and gets reimbursed out of the Army budget for boosters that go to the ground force. Each service then customizes its combined glide-body-and-booster to be launched either off trucks or naval vessels.

The Air Force wants to launch its hypersonic missiles off airplanes, which is a very different technical problem, and it’s also exploring the most advanced technology – such as “air-breathing” hypersonic cruise missiles that fly under continual thrust like a jet plane, instead of having a rocket booster launch a glide body. So the Air Force has its own separate programs. But all three services come together on a Common Hypersonic Glide Body Board of Directors, which meets at least quarterly – the most recent time was last week – with each service taking a turn as chairman – last week was Thurgood’s turn.

Breaking Defense graphic from Army FY21 budget data

“The joint coordination has been phenomenal,” he told me. “In the past, you might have seen we each had our own contract for each of these things. That’s too slow and too expensive.”

So when you look at the $801 million for “Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon” under RDTE Budget Activity 4 in the Army budget request for 2021, that includes funds the service is transferring to the Navy to buy boosters.

But that $801 million in Research & Development isn’t everything the Army is spending on hypersonics. There’s another $30 million in Science & Technology. UPDATE Helpful Army budgeteers have pointed out another $20 million or so we missed — we’ll update this story when we nail down the numbers. UPDATE ENDS

“While we’re doing this, you can’t also walk away from the future, so there’s still S&T work going on,” Thurgood said. After the initial version is fielded, he said, “What is block two? What is block three?….You keep modifying, based on what the threat is doing.”

There’s joint cooperation on high-energy lasers as well, led by Thomas Karr, the Pentagon’s assistant director for directed energy. Within the Army budget for 2021, the biggest item by far is $212.3 million under Budget Activity 5 — System Development & Demonstration (SDD) – for the Stryker-mounted 50-kW laser, DE M-SHORAD. (That figure isn’t in the budget, but it’s the laser-specific portion of a larger $284.2 million line item for M-SHORAD overall, Army officials explained).

But, as with hypersonics, there are multiple budget lines for lasers at different stages of RDTE, totally another $66 million. To break it down, the ’21 request asks for $28.2 million in Applied Research (Budget Activity 2), $29.7 million in Advanced Technology Development (BA 3), and $8.1 million in Advanced Component Development & Prototypes (BA 4).

That’s actually less than the total appropriated — $90 million — for High Energy Lasers in those three categories in 2020. Why? Because more and more, these technologies are moving up the scale from early research to prototyping and, soon, production.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
Raytheon to start full-scale development of bunker-busting Tomahawk missile with penetrating warhead
U.S. Navy land-attack experts are asking the Raytheon Co. to start full-scale development of a blast and penetration warhead to enable the Tomahawk missile to destroy bunkers and other hardened targets.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $90.4 million contract last week to the Raytheon Missile Systems segment in Tucson, Ariz., for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System (JMEWS).

The JMEWS project seeks to improve the Tactical Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile for bunker busting and large-area target capability. EMD is the final phase of weapons development before full-scale production.

JMEWS is developing a warhead that combines blast-fragmentation and enhanced penetration in one warhead. This would enable the Tomahawk to attack soft targets like parked aircraft, vehicles, and formations of soldiers, as well as hardened targets like bunkers, underground command posts, and aircraft in hardened shelters.

For JMEWS, Raytheon is designing a two-stage warhead in a multi-effects system to destroy a wide variety of targets. During an August 2010 test, the JMEWS creating a hole large enough in a reinforced bunker for the missile's follow-through element to penetrate the concrete target and pass through two witness plates.

The JMEWS warhead will be for the Raytheon Tomahawk Block V missile, which is scheduled to start production this year. Some Block V missiles will have bunker-busting capability, while others will be able to attack moving targets at sea. The missile can fire from surface warships and from submerged submarines. Existing Block IV Tomahawks will be converted to Block Vs, and the remaining Block III missiles will be retired.

JMEWS is to give the Tomahawk cruise missile increased flexibility and lethality against heavily defended and hardened targets like bunkers, underground laboratories, and missile facilities. This capability is to give military commanders the option of attacking heavily defended and dynamic targets without using manned aircraft.

On this contract Raytheon will do the work in Tucson, Ariz.; Cincinnati; Plymouth, Minn.; and Rocket Center, W.Va., and should be finished by November 2023.


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017

Aerojet Rocketdyne installs rocket motor casting bell as Camden rocket motor facility nears completion
Camden AR (SPX) Mar 13, 2020 - Aerojet Rocketdyne has installed a steel casting bell to support production of large solid rocket motors, marking an important milestone for completion of its Engineering, Manufacturing and Developm

The vacuum chamber casting bell was relocated from Aerojet Rocketdyne's Sacramento, California, facility, where it was used to produce large rocket boosters for the Atlas V rocket. In Camden, it will be used to produce large solid rocket motors for programs, including hypersonics and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Camden facility will be able to produce motors up to 470 inches long and up to 100 inches in diameter.