Pentagon’s Testing for $12.6 Billion in Hypersonics Under Review

(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon’s inspector general is evaluating whether the Defense Department and military services have adequate ground testing, evaluation facilities and specialized chambers to support the U.S.’s spending surge on hypersonic weapons that fly faster than five times the speed of sound.

The review, begun this month, is focused on the existing infrastructure for ground testing of the new weapons, not on their capabilities or on eventual flight tests on outdoor ranges. Hypersonics were elevated to the Pentagon’s top research and development program in 2017 as China and Russia move ahead with the agile new weapons, but until now the U.S. effort has been limited to two early flight demonstrations.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 budget proposes spending $3.2 billion, up $400 million from what Congress approved for this year. It’s part of $12.6 billion in planned hypersonics spending through 2025, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.

Before a potential weapon is deployed it must be put through a formal development effort, with specific thresholds to cross and rigorous ground and flight tests to determine whether it’s “operationally effective” and can be maintained over time.

Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma suggested in a December opinion piece in Defense News that Pentagon hypersonic test facilities are inadequate, writing “dilapidated testing infrastructure is holding us back from catching up to our enemies. Just look at hypersonic weapons: Beijing is parading around dozens of its newest weapons, and we have yet to build one.”

‘Balanced Approach’

Mark Lewis, the Defense Department’s director of research and engineering for modernization, who’s overseeing the hypersonic effort, said last week that “we need to take a balanced approach” to testing.

“We can test something into oblivion and you never wind up building it, you never wind up using it but at the same time there are clearly tests you want to do, you have to do before you build a system,” Lewis said at a presentation sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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