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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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U.S.

US military suffers another hypersonic missile setback

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The United States military is still playing catch-up to China when it comes to modern hypersonic missiles. The Army hoped it could field a battery of hypersonic missile launchers by the end of the year, but several consecutive failed tests are putting a damper on those hypersonic hopes.

While every intercontinental ballistic missile since World War II has been able to travel at hypersonic speeds, in the modern lexicon of defense jargon, hypersonic weapons aren’t just fast, they can maneuver as well, taking unpredictable paths to the target and making them difficult to defend against.

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The Pentagon has several projects in the works to develop hypersonic missiles. The U.S. Army and Navy are working together on one of those to develop what the Army calls a Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, or LRHW, and what the Navy calls Conventional Prompt Strike, or CPS.

This joint project suffered the most recent setback in October.

The Navy took the lead on designing the primary component of the weapon — the common hypersonic glide body, or C-HGB. The glide body is the part of the weapon that carries the warhead and ultimately delivers the killing blow. The Navy integrated the glide body with a two-stage booster, creating what’s known as an “All-Up Round.” The Army is taking the lead on manufacturing the C-HGB.

Over the course of the last year, the Army tried three times to use its land-based launch system to test its LRHW. The launcher fits on the back of a trailer and is similar to what’s used by Patriot missile batteries. However, each of those tests had to be aborted when pre-flight checks revealed anomalies in the system. After the most recent scrubbed launch, the Army and Navy are taking apart the weapons system to determine what went wrong.

The Army had planned to field its first LRHW battery by September 2023, but that didn’t happen. The soonest the Army can now hope to field an LRHW battery would be in the first quarter of 2024, if not later.

That delay will also push back the Navy’s efforts to incorporate the C-HGB into its Conventional Prompt Strike missile. The Navy plans to arm Zumwalt-class destroyers first with the hypersonic weapons, and then Virginia-class submarines after that.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:00am Central on 11/10/2023 to make a correction. The U.S. Navy plans to arm Virginia-class submarines with CPS, not Virginia-class destroyers as previously stated.

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THE UNITED STATES MILITARY IS STILL PLAYING CATCH UP TO CHINA WHEN IT COMES TO MODERN HYPERSONIC MISSILES. THE ARMY HOPED IT COULD FIELD A BATTERY OF HYPERSONIC MISSILE LAUNCHERS BY THE END OF THE YEAR, BUT SEVERAL FAILED TESTS IN A ROW IS PUTTING A DAMPER ON THOSE HYPERSONIC HOPES.

WHILE EVERY INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILE SINCE WORLD WAR II HAS BEEN ABLE TO TRAVEL AT HYPERSONIC SPEEDS, IN THE MODERN LEXICON OF DEFENSE JARGON HYPERSONIC WEAPONS AREN’T JUST FAST. THEY CAN MANEUVER AS WELL, TAKING UNPREDICTIABLE PATHS TO THE TARGET AND MAKING THEM DIFFICULT TO DEFEND AGAINST.

THE PENTAGON HAS SEVERAL PROJECTS IN THE WORKS TO DEVELOP HYPERSONIC MISSILES. THE US ARMY AND NAVY ARE WORKING TOGETHER ON ONE OF THOSE TO DEVELOP WHAT THE ARMY CALLS A LONG-RANGE HYPERSONIC WEAPON, OR LRHW, AND WHAT THE NAVY CALLS CONVENTIONAL PROMPT STRIKE, OR CPS.

IT’S THIS JOINT PROJECT WHICH SUFFERED THE MOST RECENT SETBACK IN OCTOBER.

THE NAVY TOOK THE LEAD ON DESIGNING THE PRIMARY COMPONENT OF THE WEAPON, THE COMMON HYPERSONIC GLIDE BODY, OR C-HGB. THE GLIDE BODY IS THE PART OF THE WEAPON THAT CARRIES THE WARHEAD AND ULTIMATELY DELIVERS THE KILLING BLOW. THE NAVY INTEGRATED THE GLIDE BODY WITH A TWO-STAGE BOOSTER, CREATING WHAT’S KNOWN AS AN ALL-UP ROUND. THE ARMY IS TAKING THE LEAD ON MANUFACTURING THE C-HGB.

OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST YEAR, THE ARMY TRIED THREE TIMES TO USE ITS LAND-BASED LAUNCH SYSTEM TO TEST ITS LRHW. THE LAUNCHER FITS ON THE BACK OF A TRAILER AND IS SIMILAR TO WHAT’S USED BY PATRIOT MISSILE BATTERIES. BUT EACH OF THOSE TESTS HAD TO BE ABORTED WHEN PRE-FLIGHT CHECKS REVEALED ANAMOLIES IN THE SYSTEM.

AFTER THE MOST RECENT SCRUBBED LAUNCH, THE ARMY AND NAVY ARE TAKING APART THE WEAPONS SYSTEM TO DETERMINE WHAT WENT WRONG.

THE ARMY HAD PLANNED TO FIELD ITS FIRST LRHW BATTERY BY SEPTEMBER. OBVIOUSLY, THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. THE SOONEST THE ARMY CAN NOW HOPE TO FIELD AN LRHW BATTERY WOULD BE IN THE FIRST QUARTER OF 2024, IF NOT LATER.

THAT DELAY WILL ALSO PUSH BACK THE NAVY’S EFFORTS TO INCORPORATE THE C-HGB INTO ITS CONVENTIONAL PROMPT STRIKE MISSILE. THE NAVY PLANS TO ARM ZUMWALT CLASS DESTROYERS FIRST WITH THE HYPERSONIC WEAPONS, AND THEN VIRGINIA CLASS DESTROYERS.