Eyeing China, hypersonics technologies are Pentagon’s top development priority

06 March 2018
Lockheed Martin worked with DARPA on an early hypersonic vehicle effort, the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle concept, from 2003-11. Pictured is an artist's rendering of a separated Falcon vehicle in flight. Source: DARPA

Key Points

  • Griffin wants hypersonics sooner
  • He is pushing a number of offensive and defensive efforts forward, and expects more funding in 2020

Fielding hypersonics technologies is the highest priority for the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) new top development official.

Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, said during 6 March remarks that his first technological priority is to develop hypersonic weapons and defences against those weapons. Griffin’s job is newly created by Congress and he is the first to hold it.

China has done 20-times as many hypersonic tests as United States has done, according to Griffin. “Responding to that would be my highest technical priority,” he said at the McAleese/Credit Suisse annual defence conference.

China and Russia are known to be developing hypersonic weapons, although Griffin only cited China’s. 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.

An adversary could use hypersonic weapons to hold at risk US carrier battle groups and forward-deployed forces, and the United States – at least at the moment – would not have any ability to defend against those weapons or have an equal offensive response. This, Griffin argued, could mean a situation in which US forces can be held at risk and the United States’ only options would be to let an adversary win or to respond with nuclear weapons.

Funding for this priority would reside within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), or elsewhere, and some changes could come in the fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020) budget.

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