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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday says the service has used lasers to intercept ballistic missiles and doubled its investment in hypersonic weapons to support specific plans of great tactical and strategic significance… the ability to fire a hypersonic weapon from the stealthy, Zumwalt-class destroyers and the capacity to incinerate incoming ballistic missiles by firing deck-mounted laser systems miles up into the atmosphere.
“The Army is fielding a hypersonic weapon in 2023 and the Navy in 2025. We are spending $21 billion in R&D for hypersonics. The other is directed energy and a high-powered microwave. This is not a missile-on-missile. We are working with industry to bring those capabilities to the fleet,” Gilday told the House Appropriations Committee - Defense.
The Navy has in recent years been working with the Missile Defense Agency on the “power scaling” of laser systems with the specific aim of increasing offensive and defensive capacity at much longer ranges and with much greater degrees of power. This means configuring expeditionary electrical power with the “scaling” of multiple laser beams to engineer new dimensions of power into ship-fired laser capability. This continues to be promising, to the point wherein high-powered lasers could soon achieve the ability to perform missile defense missions just beneath or even above the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere.
“We have used lasers against ballistic missiles through successful tests at China Lake of land-based prototypes. This makes our ships more survivable,” Gilday told the Subcommittee.
Gilday’s comment about the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon slated to arrive next year, likely referred to the ongoing collaborative Army-Navy effort to develop a common Hypersonic Glide Body. While each service will use the projectile differently in terms of application, they are being engineered within a common foundation. The Navy weapon, called Conventional Prompt Strike, has conducted a breakthrough “shot” test with the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon using the Common Hypersonic Glide Body.
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Common Hypersonic Glide Body
Called a “flight campaign,” the test was conducted by Sandia National Laboratories as part of an accelerated effort to mature, refine and fast-track a new generation of hypersonic weapons to operational status.
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“This test demonstrated advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems in a realistic operating environment,” a Navy report said.
The CHGB is now being developed through a deal between the U.S. Army Hypersonic Project Office, Dynetics Technical Solutions and General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems. Dynetics, operating with technological, electrical and manufacturing support from GA-EMS, is now producing 20 prototype glide bodies.
“Our all-up round (CHGB) is a 34-inch booster which will be common between the Army and the Navy. We will shoot exactly the same thing the Navy shoots out of a sub or ship,” Robert Strider, Deputy, Army Hypersonic Project Office, told an audience in August of 2021 at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville Ala.
The glide body is a warhead which gets thrust into the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds traveling five or more times the speed of sound. Once airborne, the weapon can skip along the upper boundaries of the earth’s atmosphere before relying upon the sheer speed of its descent onto a target. Destruction of a target can be accomplished by the sheer force and speed of impact.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.