Pentagon urges CEOs of major defense companies to speed up development of hypersonic weapons as US lags behind China


“This is absolutely serious,” Austin said, citing the threat posed by Chinese and Russian hypersonic programs, according to a CEO who attended the virtual meeting. “We are now being distracted by Russia, but China is the real threat.”

During the meeting, several CEOs referred to the need for more wind tunnels to test hypersonic vehicles as a “testing bottleneck.” The US only has a handful of hypersonic wind tunnels, according to one CEO, while China has about 12 and “builds one about every six months.”
Noting an industry-wide “fear of failure” in testing hypersonic weapons, the CEO echoed comments made in October by now-retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten. While the US had conducted roughly nine hypersonic tests over the past five years, the Chinese had conducted “hundreds,” according to Hyten.

“We decided that failure is bad,” Hyten said at the time. “No, failure is part of the learning process. And if you want to get back up to speed, you better figure out how to get back up to speed [sic] and that means taking risks, and that means learning from mistakes, and that means failing fast and moving fast.”

Top executives from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Leidos, Aerojet Rocketdyne, BAE Systems, L3Harris and about half a dozen other defense contractors were present at Thursday’s meeting, chaired by Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. It wasn’t secret, but the participants agreed to meet in a confidential session soon.

“We all need to get into a SCIF and do it face to face,” the CEO said.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a session transcript Thursday night that “participants recognized the need to expand access to modeling capacity and testing facilities to take a ‘test often, fail fast and learn’ approach that encourages the adoption of hypersonics.” will accelerate and counter-hypersonic systems.”

“These meetings with leaders in key areas of innovation and modernization also help strengthen relationships and apply a collaborative disruption approach to accelerate the development of innovative capabilities and new operational concepts,” said Pahon.

At speeds of Mach 5 or faster, hypersonic weapons are difficult to detect and pose a challenge to missile defense systems. Hypersonic missiles can fly at a much lower trajectory than high arc ballistic missiles, which are easy to detect. You can also maneuver and avoid missile defense systems.

China’s and Russia’s advances and recent failed tests have prompted the Pentagon to give the US program more urgency and increase the resources they are devoting to developing hypersonic weapons. The FY22 budget allocated $3.8 billion for hypersonic research, up from $3.2 billion the previous year.

The US hypersonic industry has suffered troubles and setbacks in recent months. In October, the Pentagon said a test of a hypersonic glider failed due to a problem with the missile propelling it to hypersonic speeds, and in April a hypersonic missile failed to detach from a B-52H Stratofortress during a test at Edwards Air. Bombers separate power base.

This story was updated Thursday with additional information.


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