Redstone Arsenal plays major role in US effort to deliver hypersonic missiles
By LEE ROOP | Alabama Media Group | Published: January 22, 2020
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — A leader of the U.S. effort to deliver faster-than-sound missiles to American troops said in Alabama that a long-range hypersonic weapon will be fielded “in the near future.”
“We’re protecting some of our dates and numbers, and I hope you appreciate that. We’re under a lot of scrutiny,” Marsha Holmes, deputy director of the Army’s hypersonics push, told the Huntsville chapter of the National Space Club on Tuesday.
That Army effort is led by the office of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition headquartered at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. Its mission is to research, develop and build prototype missiles that can be field tested and then put into production.
Holmes said missiles that can fly five times the speed of sound will “provide the warfighter the ability to strike targets hundreds, even thousands of miles away, in just minutes.”
China and Russia said in late 2019 that they had fielded hypersonic missiles. Called gliders because of their low-to-Earth flight path, these missiles cannot be detected by radar until they are almost on their targets.
Russia and China are also believed to be pursuing hypersonic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The U.S. is not building that kind of hypersonic weapon at this point, relying instead on the sheer force delivered by a metal warhead at such speeds. It’s a decision that means the American version must be much more accurate.
“It’s a very changing world we’re living in today,” Holmes said. America “has been focused on the war on terrorism for the last 20 years, while adversaries have been spending large portions of their nation’s wealth on building advanced technology like hypersonic weapons and directed energy systems (lasers).”
“The U.S. has always been a leader in hypersonics research,” Holmes said, “but we made the conscious decision not to weaponize our hypersonic (missiles). Our adversaries decided to do otherwise.”
The result is a war-fighting imbalance “we have to address and we have to address quickly,” Holmes said. That means a shift from the war on terrorism to “a period of great power competition.”
The Defense Department wants land-based, air-based and sea-based hypersonic missiles and is “doing everything it possibly can to accelerate the development of hypersonics on all three fronts,” Holmes said. She called the effort “historic.”
The Huntsville audience hearing Holmes’ remarks included representatives of companies that either are bidding or will be bidding for hypersonic missile development contracts. Holmes said there is work to do, and at least one major defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, has already announced plans to build a plant in Courtland, Ala., to produce and test hypersonics. The decision will mean 50 jobs in Courtland and 200 in Huntsville.
“There’s an industrial base that has to be developed,” Holmes said. Hypersonic missiles require “unique materials” because of the altitude and environments they will navigate.