US to step up work on hypersonic missiles to counter China, Russia

US to step up work on hypersonic missiles to counter China, Russia
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The Pentagon’s high-tech office will more aggressively pursue so-called hypersonic missiles as Russia and China make advances in that area, the office’s director said Thursday.

“China and Russia are active in the area of hypersonics, have been developing capabilities,” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Steven Walker told the Defense Writers Group. “DARPA has been developing technology and capabilities in the hypersonics area for a while. … We do need an infusion of dollars in our infrastructure to do hypersonics.”

Hypersonics are generally defined as missiles than can fly more than five times the speed of sound.

Walker’s comments come after Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the morning bragged about his country having hypersonic weapons. Putin claimed the missile could render U.S. defenses “useless.”

Walker would not comment on the veracity of Putin’s speech, other than to acknowledge open reporting about Russia’s capabilities, as well as China’s.

Last year, Walker and other DARPA officials met with then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work to push for a national initiative in hypersonics. He also pushed for an increase in hypersonics as part of this year’s budget process, he said.

DARPA’s budget for fiscal 2019 requests $256.7 million for hypersonic missile development, compared with $108.6 million it requested in fiscal 2018.

“I don’t think we got everything we wanted, but it was a good first step,” he said.

The money will be going toward more flight tests, as well as “getting some of our offensive capability further down the line into operational prototypes,” he said.

One area for improvement is infrastructure to test the weapons, Walker said. DARPA generally uses one testing facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center. To correct that, he said, he wants to work with Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin to develop a national infrastructure plan for hypersonics.

“If you look at some of our peer competitors — China being one — and you look at the number of facilities they’ve built to do hypersonics, it surpasses the number we have in this country and is quickly surpassing it by [a multiple of] two or three,” he said. “It is very clear that China has a focus on hypersonics and are making it one of their national priorities, and I think we need to do the same.”

DARPA has also advised the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on ways to protect against hypersonics as part of the ballistic missile defense review, Walker said.

“We were called in more than year ago to help inform them on what this hypersonics thing is all about,” he said. “And we did go over and give them all of our data, data from previous hypersonics programs we have done. We have a good relationship, I’ll say, with the intel community in the U.S. in this space, and so we were able to give MDA a lot of the information about what’s going on elsewhere, including what we’re doing. And so I think that was a good springboard for them into the missile defense review and other work that they’re doing to look at defending against hypersonics.”