U.S. Navy Tests Future Hypersonic Weapons System

Image courtesy USN

Published Mar 20, 2020 2:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army completed a test launch of a common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB), which flew at hypersonic speed to a designated impact point. Hypersonic weapons development is a top priority for the Navy, as these long-range munitions are extremely difficult to intercept and defeat. The service said that the launch is a major milestone towards the goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities by the mid-2020s.

The flight experiment launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii at about 2230 hours. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) monitored and gathered tracking data from the flight experiment as part of its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against other nations' hypersonic weapons.

''This test builds on the success we had with Flight Experiment 1 in October 2017, in which our C-HGB achieved sustained hypersonic glide at our target distances,'' said Vice Adm. Johnny R. Wolfe, Director, Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, which is the lead designer for the C-HGB. ''In this test we put additional stresses on the system and it was able to handle them all, due to the phenomenal expertise of our top notch team of individuals from across government, industry and academia. Today we validated our design and are now ready to move to the next phase towards fielding a hypersonic strike capability.''

Hypersonic weapons are capable of flying at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), and they are highly maneuverable. This provides the ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away in a matter of minutes in order to defeat a wide range of high-value targets. 

The C-HGB – when fully fielded – will be the weapon's conventional warhead, guidance system, cabling and thermal protection shield. The Navy and Army are working closely with industry to develop the C-HGB with Navy as the lead designer and Army as the lead for production. Each service will use the C-HGB while developing individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land. The similarities in hypersonic weapon design for sea and land variants provide economies of scale for future production.

"Hypersonic systems deliver transformational warfighting capability," said Mr. Mike White, Assistant Director, Hypersonics, OUSD Research and Engineering (Modernization). "The glide body tested today is now ready for transition to Army and Navy weapon system development efforts and is one of several applications of hypersonic technology underway across the Department. These capabilities help ensure that our warfighters will maintain the battlefield dominance necessary to deter, and if necessary, defeat any future adversary.''