US Navy Hypersonic Missile Test

Hawaii A common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, in March 19, 2020, during a Department of Defense flight experiment. (U.S. Navy photo)

US Navy Fails Hypersonic Missile Test

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July 5, 2022

The United State Navy’s most expensive surface ships, the three destroyers of the USS Zumwalt class, has been plagued with failures. The ship’s Advanced Gun System did not work as hoped and its rocket-boosted LRLAP GPS-guided shells cost $800,000 dollars each so Navy CNO Admiral Gilday pivoted this year saying they would remove the guns and install just two hypersonic missiles instead. Now those missiles are failing tests.

By Jon Herskovitz (Bloomberg) A flight test of a hypersonic missile system in Hawaii ended in failure due to a problem that took place after ignition, the Department of Defense said, delivering a fresh blow to a program that has suffered stumbles.

It didn’t provide further details of what took place in the Wednesday test, but said in a statement sent by email “the Department remains confident that it is on track to field offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities on target dates beginning in the early 2020s.”

“An anomaly occurred following ignition of the test asset,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander Tim Gorman said in the statement.

“Program officials have initiated a review to determine the cause to inform future tests.” he said. “While the Department was unable to collect data on the entirety of the planned flight profile, the information gathered from this event will provide vital insights.”

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The trial marked the second unsuccessful test flight of the prototype weapon known as Conventional Prompt Strike. There was a booster failure in its first flight test in October, which prevented the missile from leaving the launch pad. The Conventional Prompt Strike weapon is envisioned to be installed on Zumwalt destroyers and Virginia-class submarines.

190126-N-XN177-1065 SAN DIEGO (Jan. 26, 2019) Sailors assigned to the Naval Base Coronado security department fire a 19-gun salute during the commissioning ceremony for the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001). Michael Monsoor is the second Zumwalt-class destroyer to enter the fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by Peter Burghart)

The Army is developing a land-based version. Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp are the top contractors.

The Pentagon is feeling pressure to deploy hypersonic systems as rivals including Russia, China and North Korea are pressing ahead with the systems designed to evade interception by flying at more than five times the speed of sound and gliding on a maneuverable path to deliver nuclear warheads.

China is investing heavily in hypersonic weapons, putting one in orbit in July of last year that flew 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) in more than 100 minutes of flight, according to the top US nuclear commander. In January, North Korea conducted two separate launches of hypersonic missile systems that traveled several hundred kilometers.

Russia debuted a hypersonic air-to-ground missile in its attack on Ukraine. Adversaries don’t have to meet the rigorous standards set under the US defense acquisition system or face public scrutiny over delays and failure.

The slower pace of US hypersonic programs prompted a number of heated exchanges when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified in April before the House Armed Services Committee.

“You recently called in the defense industrial community that were involved in the hypersonics development as to how we can speed that up,” Republican Representative Mike Turner of Ohio said. “We’re behind our adversaries.”

Without denying that, Austin said “we have to be careful” because “hypersonic is a capability, sir, but it’s not the only capability.” He added “I have engaged industry” to “make sure that they’re leaning into” hypersonic development.

By Jon Herskovitz and Tony Capaccio, with assistance from Max Zimmerman. © 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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