The Army has moved its land-based hypersonic missile program into experimental prototyping with a focus this year on finalizing launcher and command and control system decisions ahead of a first flight test in fiscal year 2020 and initial fielding in 2023, according to the program’s lead official.

Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, director of the Army hypersonic project office, told Defense Daily on Thursday his team is currently working through selecting existing trucks and C2 systems that will be modified for the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon’s prototyping package ahead of a series of flight tests that will run from FY ’20 to ’23.

LTG Neil Thurgood, director of the Army’s hypersonic project office

“We’re no longer an S&T program. We’re an experimental prototyping program. Eventually we’ll lead to a program of record in a much more traditional model,” Thurgood said. “So we’re taking the S&T work and now have contracts in place to do systems integration, to do production and build missiles, glide bodies and trucks and trailers to give to our soldiers.”

Thurgood said he couldn’t detail the experimental prototyping contracts, while noting the land-based hypersonic missile will use the same common glide body as the Air Force and Navy.

The joint services signed a memorandum of agreement last June to work cooperatively on hypersonic boost glide technology development.

Army officials began science and technology efforts on a hypersonic weapon in 2011, according to Thurgood, as the land-based component to the Pentagon’s Conventional Prompt Strike program.

Long Range Hypersonic Weapon has now moved out of S&T and concept development and into experimental prototyping of an operational capability, with goal of working toward fielding one battery in FY ’23.

“We’re going to build a battery that will be given to soldiers to execute the missions for that kind of long-range weapons system,” Thurgood said.

Thurgood’s hypersonics office was officially stood up eight weeks ago, which he said will now focus on finalizing the prototype package for flight tests based on lessons learned from S&T work.

“A couple of key things came out of S&T. First, you can design a glide body that will survive re-entry, because this does go into space and comes back through. Second, you can control its flight path,” Thurgood said. “Everything that we have today is a ballistic missile that flies on a parabolic arc. This doesn’t do that.”

Through the rest of the year, Thurgood said his office will focus on selecting trucks and trailers out of the Army’s current inventory that will be modified to transport and handle the future hypersonics weapons.

In FY ’20, the Army is expected to complete design work ahead of the first flight tests and initial prototype delivery to a select unit in FY ’21.

Thurgood said the first flight test next year will focus on determining the maximum range of the future weapons, with subsequent tests centered on determining the shortest possible range as well as how the system works in contested electronic environments.