HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Army plans to award a contract to develop a ground-launcher for a hypersonic weapon within three weeks, an official said Wednesday.

The service is in the final process of negotiating an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contract to design and integrate a vertical launcher on to a trailer. “That’ll be done win the next three weeks, so we’re very, very excited about that,” Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, Director of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), said during the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. L Neil Thurgood, Director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Apr. 11, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by William Pratt)

As the head of RCCTO, Thurgood is in charge of the Army’s efforts in hypersonics, directed energy, space, and rapid acquisition.

The Army is partnering with the Navy, Air Force, and Missile Defense Agency to develop the hypersonic weapons, but different services are cooperating on different parts of the weapon.

The hypersonic glide body will be the common element among all the services. The Navy manages design work on the glide body while the Army will oversee production of the glide body. The Navy will also buy a common missile stack rocket booster to lift the glide body to the edge of space, which combined makes the all up round missile that will be used by both the Army and Navy. The Air Force will use the same glide body, but develop a separate missile system to launch it from aircraft.

The Army’s hypersonic weapons will be contained in service-unique cannisters mounted two at a time on a heavy truck that will be made into a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) vehicle to allow the weapon to be road-mobile. The impending contract is for designing and integrating the vertical launcher in the TEL.

The Navy will use separate launchers to deploy the weapon from ships.

The Army plans to reach four TEL trucks, with two missiles on each, to make up a battery.

Thurgood said the Army plans to field a missile and launcher to a unit by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021. That unit will then train for about a year without live rounds, using cement of matching weight. The first live round test is planned for FY ’22. A captain will be in charge of the battery, which is expected to be ready and deployed by FY ’23.

Thurgood noted “that’s a pretty aggressive schedule” and it requires contractors to work well with the government and each other.

He said he was tasked with crafting a plan for the hypersonic weapon program within 30 days starting on Feb. 14. Now, six months later, they are about ready to award associated contracts and then move a prototype to soldiers within a few years.

Two months ago, Thurgood said his office

received approval to move forward with the hypersonic program to field the initial combat capability in FY ’23 (Defense Daily, June 4).

Thurgood underscored “what is interesting about the glide body technology is we also have to create an industrial base to do this. There is no industrial base in the United States for glide bodies.”

Hypersonic vehicles operate at extreme speeds and high altitudes. Raytheon is developing hypersonics for the U.S. Department of Defense. (Image: Raytheon)
Hypersonic vehicles operate at extreme speeds and high altitudes. Raytheon is developing hypersonics for the U.S. Department of Defense. (Image: Raytheon)

The technology is currently owned by the government in government laboratories.

“So we are transitioning that out of the labs, into the commercial marketplace. That’s a real hard thing to do but there’s a lot of energy and a lot of momentum behind that outcome,” he added.

Thurgood said that, unlike some programs, no single company can do all the work on its own. “It actually takes a collaborative effort amongst the industry partners.”

He argued that “we need you to collaborate with each other, we need you to collaborate, in part, with us, and all the services.”

Thurgood also noted that “the technologies we need for the offense and the technologies we need for the defense are very similar. So there’s actually an MoA (memorandum of agreement) between all of us that dictates what our relationships are.”

Kenneth Todorov, vice president of Missile Defense Solutions at Northrop Grumman, told Defense Daily in an interview at the symposium he agreed and the company is not thinking hypersonic offense and defense as separated.

“I’m working closely with my counterparts [within the company] on the offensive side, that we leverage things that they’re doing that might help on the defensive side and vice versa. We’re considering an offense-defense mix. We hear that from our customer and from the warfighter.”