US Way Behind Schedule For Key Weapons Tech Already Used By China

The delivery of the first prototype hypersonic hardware to Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade is completed on Oct. 7, 2021, with a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The Army is prototyping the land-based, ground launched Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) that will provide residual combat capability to Soldiers by Fiscal Year 2023. This prototype, being built under the direction of Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), fields components of the LRHW to enable Soldiers to fully train with the system and build tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). Hypersonic weapons, capable of flying at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5+), are a new capability that provide a unique combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude to defeat time-critical, heavily-defended and high value targets. Hypersonics is part of the Army’s number one modernization priority of Long Range Precision Fires, and is one of the highest priority modernization areas the Department of Defense is pursuing to ensure continued battlefield dominance. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Karleshia Gater)

The U.S. military is still months behind on its hypersonic missile program, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Monday, as China is ramping up its own hypersonic testing.

Hypersonic missile systems are capable of taking evasive measures mid-flight and moving at speeds up to 7,000 miles an hour — five times the speed of sound. Already plagued by delays, the U.S. Army will likely not be able to make its first-ever hypersonic weapons system combat-ready until at least fiscal year 2025, which begins on Oct. 1, according to the GAO report.

U.S. intelligence has previously warned that China is currently leading the pack in terms of hypersonic capabilities, while the U.S. program has struggled with operational problems and delays, according to Bloomberg. By 2018, China had conducted more than 20 times as many hypersonic tests as the U.S., according to a February report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Over the past two decades, China has dramatically advanced its development of conventional and nuclear-armed hypersonic missile technologies and capabilities through intense and focused investment, development, testing and deployment,” Paul Freisthler, chief scientist for science and technology at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing in March 2023. “While both China and Russia have conducted numerous successful tests of hypersonic weapons and have likely fielded operational systems, China is leading Russia in both supporting infrastructure and numbers of systems.”

The Army “missed its goal of fielding its first Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW battery — including missiles — by fiscal year 2023 due to integration challenges,” the report reads. “Based on current test and missile production plans, the Army will not field its first complete battery until fiscal year 2025.

The initial goal is to develop a battery system capable of holding and launching eight hypersonic missiles, according to the report. For the weapons system to be deemed ready for combat operations, the Army must first conduct a successful missile test; two previous weapons tests in 2023 weren’t completed because of issues detected with the launcher.

The Army said after the failed launches that the next test launch cannot be conducted until the end of fiscal year 2024, according to the report. If further issues are discovered during the next tests, the hypersonic program could be delayed even longer.

“The program is on track to implement required corrective actions and successfully demonstrate system performance by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024,” the Army told the GAO, according to the report.

The Pentagon has poured $12 billion into hypersonics development across various military branches since 2018, but still has yet to field a single weapon, according to Bloomberg. Leaked Pentagon documents from 2023 found that China had developed and deployed a new hypersonic missile capable of evading U.S. defense systems.

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