The U.S. Air Force is looking to speed up its hypersonics development work and expects to announce its specific intentions in “weeks,” a service official said April 27.

An engineering team is putting the finishing touches on the acceleration plan, said Will Roper, the Air Force’s new assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. 

Air Force acquisition chief William Roper (Photo courtesy of Air Force)
Air Force acquisition chief William Roper (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

“I’ll be ready to make some announcements very soon,” Roper told reporters at the Pentagon. “I am very confident that a significant acceleration is doable.”

Roper, who has been in his job for about 50 days, believes that hypersonic vehicles, or those that travel at least five times the speed of sound, are ready to transition from the laboratory to the battlefield.

“It’s time to think about operationalizing it,” he said. “It’s a truly extreme regime, so we need to get out, we need to test aggressively, we need to not be afraid of failure. It’s something we can do.”

Roper also believes that fielding something more quickly might require changing the Air Force mindset of not wanting to deploy systems until they are perfected.

“The thing I’m trying to do is make sure that we’re not pursuing the 100 percent solution that fields much later,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we drop to 40 percent,” but it might mean 90 percent or 95 percent.

The Air Force recently awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] a multi-year contract valued at up to $928 million to develop and test the air-launched Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) prototype (Defense Daily, April 18). The HCSW effort will use “mature technologies that have not been integrated for an air-launched delivery system,” a service spokeswoman said.

Another Air Force hypersonic weapon prototype effort, the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, “will push the art-of-the-possible by leveraging the technical base established” by a partnership between the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the spokeswoman said.

Hypersonics is also receiving close attention outside the Air Force. Michael Griffin, the new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has called advancing hypersonics his top technical priority (Defense Daily, March 6).