(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Army is making adjustments to ensure its fast-tracked effort to close the hypersonic weapons gap with Russia and China maintains its accelerated delivery schedule and deliver the new Long Range Hypersonic Weapon by 2023.
“The Army decided that we need to move forward rapidly,” Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, told an audience at the 2021 Space and Missile Defense Symposium Huntsville, Ala.
The sped up timeline is due to several key Army weapons development imperatives to streamline the often multi-year acquisition process through increased digital engineering, early prototyping, soldier evaluations and finding an effective 90-percent solution which may be excellent yet still not perfect.
Formal or traditional acquisition milestones, for example, can be spread apart by years, causing unwanted bureaucratic delays. However, various functions can be integrated and solider evaluations can be prioritized early on to enable the ability to refine and improve requirements for the weapon.
“When you're building the first thing ever it's pretty audacious to think you know all of the answers. Right? That's why we have this is why we do prototyping, can we develop the answers as we go instead of waiting, like we have in the last couple of years,” Thurgood said.
Once a prototype is functional, and perhaps even earlier through various kinds of simulation and digital engineering, the Army will heavily draw upon soldier input to refine requirements, tactical use possibilities and concepts of operation.
“If we begin to build new weapon systems we have to experiment and see how they fit into the whole structure of our Army. It's not just the widget itself there. That is insufficient because it is something that is part of an integrated solution that is on the battle-space, creating multiple dilemmas for an enemy,” Thurgood explained. “Soldiers have been training on this equipment from day one. We have over 1,000 hours of soldier touch points on the equipment ….1000 hours. Normally, In a traditional program of record, you never have that kind of result.”
Oftentimes, experienced combat soldiers are best positioned to offer key insights into how to best optimize the use or deployment of new weapons systems, as they quite regularly wind up telling developers about ways to use the weapon which had not previously been envisioned.
The LRHW, which will be road-mobile, C-17 transportable and engineered with a common Army-Navy warhead, is slated for several upcoming assessments, tests and soldier examinations to ensure it is optimized for quality, reliability and operational functionality before it is delivered.
In closing his remarks, Thurgood was again adamant that keeping to delivery, prototyping and development schedule was of paramount importance. This makes a lot of sense, given that one of his fellow senior Army colleagues developing the LRHW was clear that the U.S. was “number 3” in the hypersonic weapons race.
“What we need now is to be on time. We've got to move fast,” Thurgood said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.