The Pentagon plans to begin readying its first Army unit to field hypersonic weapons later this year, even though the US military has no working hypersonic missile, much less a working launch platform for a ground-based one.
Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of the US Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, told Defense News earlier this week that “By the end of this fiscal year, which is in September, all of the equipment that the unit needs plus training will be delivered to the unit.”
The outlet noted, however, that while the unit will be able to train to operate the weapon, it won’t actually receive a live round until at least fiscal year 2023.
Thurgood also told Defense News about the process of developing an industrial base for hypersonic weapon production, which for the Army will be headed by Dynetics and Lockheed Martin, the latter already working with the Air Force to develop an air-launched hypersonic missile. Dynetics is constructing the glide body, a hyper-maneuverable unpowered vehicle that detaches from the missile but uses its extreme speed - upwards of Mach 5 - to close on its target much faster than a typical ballistic missile.
Their speed and maneuverability make them hard to detect and even harder to intercept, although Russia claims its S-500 Triumf air defense system can shoot them down.
Contrary to Russia and China, the US currently has no hypersonic weapon ready for use. Several are in various stages of development, including Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon (ARRW) and the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) being jointly developed by Lockheed, Raytheon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In January, DARPA revealed its program to build a ground-launched intermediate-range hypersonic missile had advanced to the assembly and testing phase. Like other road-mobile ballistic missiles, the weapon will have a mobile transporter erector launcher (TEL) as well as a two-stage rocket and a hypersonic glide bus.
As Sputnik reported, the missile’s reportedly “throttleable” thrust makes it extremely dangerous, noting its deployment is only possible thanks to the Trump administration unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019. The treaty was intended to reduce the risk of high-speed nuclear strikes, which left nuclear powers constantly on-edge, making an accidental “response” more likely.