Soldiers from the I Corps’ 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington will begin new equipment training–all of it virtual–on Oct. 18 for the U.S. Army’s first prototype hypersonic weapon battery, “Dark Eagle,” as the Army seeks to have a first operational capability ready in fiscal year 2023.

The Army said last week that it has completed fielding of the ground equipment for system testing (Defense Daily, Oct. 7).

The prototype LRHW battery includes four road-mobile, C-17 transportable launchers that can each carry two rounds, a battery operations center and a group of modified trucks and trailers.

“We have a series of flight tests, and these [JBLM] units will begin to shoot our flight tests,” Army Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, director of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), said on Oct. 11 during a briefing at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference.”We don’t have time to do a bunch of flight tests and then give it to the unit. The unit has to be part of the flight test program so we train them how to shoot this and use this weapons system as we build the weapons system.”

The Army RCCTO’s hypersonic weapon development is a joint effort with the Navy designing the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) and the Army overseeing production.

In 2019, the Army chose Lockheed Martin [LMT] as the weapon systems integrator for the truck-fired LRHW, while Dynetics [LDOS] is to build the C-HGB (Defense Daily, Aug. 30, 2019).

Last March, the Army and Navy flew a hypersonic glide body from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii to a designated impact point during a C-HGB test (Defense Daily, March 20).

In addition to the Army’s hypersonic missile efforts, the service is working with DoD’s “high energy laser scaling initiative” and directed energy efforts by the other military services. The Army is looking to prototype a 300 kW laser on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles and field by fiscal 2024 a Indirect Fire Protection Capability High Energy Laser by Dynetics. That laser is to field along with a high-powered microwave against drone swarms.

Marcia Holmes, the Army RCCTO’s deputy director for hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition, said on Oct. 11 that the U.S. Air Force fielded an early prototype of the Tactical High-Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR) against such drone swarms.

“We are watching that very closely,” she said of THOR testing. “It will inform the Army’s decisions. We are looking to put soldiers over there on the system to do an operational assessment and give us feedback to inform the Army’s decision to build a prototype platoon in FY ’24.”

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M., BAE Systems and Verus Research are developing THOR.