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Military Capabilities

Pentagon budget 2019: Russian, Chinese hypersonics emerge as clear concern

22 February 2018
Lockheed Martin worked with DARPA on an early hypersonic vehicle effort, the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle concept, from 2003 to 2011. Pictured is an artist's rendering of a separated Falcon vehicle in flight. Source: DARPA

Development of hypersonic weapons, and defences against those weapons, are given new life in the US Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) budget amid concerns that peers such as Russia and China are advancing hypersonics technologies.

These systems, such as hypersonic glide vehicles, are meant to be capable of significant range within a short period of time; a hypersonic weapon would reach speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10.

“We have investments in critical areas, such as hypersonic technology,” Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist told reporters at the Pentagon during the budget rollout.

For example, in FY 2019 the Pentagon is requesting USD263.414 million for its Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) project. The now-secretive effort involves the military services, government agencies, national research laboratories, and industry.

Previous projects included the US Army's Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, the US Air Force's Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, and US Navy efforts towards launching hypersonic weapons from submarines (likely via Ohio-class guided-missile submarines or a future version of the new Virginia-class fast attack submarines).

Now, the programme broadly “funds the design, development, and experimentation of boosters, payload delivery vehicles (PDVs), non-nuclear warheads, thermal protection systems, guidance systems, test range modernisation, and mission planning and enabling capabilities”.

Among other goals, the Pentagon wants “effects on targets in a very short period of time from execution order; non-ballistic flight over the majority of the flight path; positive control from launch to impact; adequate cross-range/maneuverability to avoid [sovereign country] overflight issues; [and] controlled stage drop over Broad Ocean Area”. This project is also developing non-nuclear warhead technologies to defeat time-sensitive targets.

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