US military successfully tests components for hypersonic weapons development

The technology will be used by the U.S. Army to field a hypersonic weapon by 2023.
Ameya Paleja
Hypersonic rocket flies above the clouds stock photo.
Hypersonic rocket flies above the clouds stock photo.

Alexyz3d/iStock 

A sounding rocket fired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Wallops Flight Facility this week has successfully tested 11 different components to be used in hypersonic weapon development, a press release from the U.S. Navy has confirmed.

Sounding rockets fill a critical gap between ground testing and full system flight testing. The relatively lower cost of deploying a sounding rocket allows for frequent flight tests to help gather critical data for weapons development.

The flight was executed by the Sandia National Laboratory (SNL). It was part of the second High Operational Tempo for Hypersonics flight campaign carried out collaboratively by the Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) and the Army Hypersonic Project Office (AHPO). The first flight was conducted in October 2021, and with the successful completion of the second flight campaign, the SSP and AHPO are on schedule to field a hypersonic weapon by 2023, the press release said.

The race for hypersonic weapons

Hypersonic weapons are considered the next frontier of the weapons race where the projectile can travels at speeds five times that of sound, while also being able to maneuver themselves mid-flight, evading air defenses with ease.

The U.S. military has been a laggard in this area after adversaries like China and Russia have successfully deployed full-flight systems, with the latter even claiming to have used them in its conflict with Ukraine.

The U.S. has multiple programs under various departments to develop its hypersonic weapons, and some have begun to bear fruit now. We might still be a fair distance away from seeing their full flights; however, the good news is that tests are no longer failing.

Following the successful test this week, the program plans to launch a second rocket this week which will test a set of 13 different components that will then be used to design the hypersonic weapon.

Pentagon's approach to hypersonic missile development

The recently concluded rocket test saw the participation of a wide spectrum of organizations ranging from Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, MITRE, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to several defense contractors.

The data from the experimental payloads tested in a "realistic hypersonic environment" is collected by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and preliminary analysis showed that data across all parameters were successfully recorded, CNN reported. The test data will be used to inform the development of the U.S. Navy's Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) and the U.S. Army's Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) offensive weapons.

As per the press release, the CPS program has multiple Technology Insertion points that allow the hypersonic weapon technology to evolve even after it is deployed. The October 2021 test demonstrated a technology that was deemed mature enough to be incorporated in the next Technology Insertion.

Each of these steps are vital in the development of the U.S. Navy's hypersonic missile, which will feature a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB) and booster which will be fielded by both the Navy as well as the U.S. Army using their own weapon systems and launchers, the press release said.

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