The Army’s retooled rapid capabilities office has received approval to move ahead with its programs to deliver an initial combat capability for a hypersonic weapon in fiscal year 2023, with plans to announce a prototype award in August, and a Stryker-mounted 50 kilowatt laser by late 2022.

Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, told reporters Tuesday his office has finalized a path forward to move the Army’s signature hypersonics and directed energy programs into experimental prototyping and eventually deliver a single set of capability to units to inform leadership’s decision on setting programs of record.

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)

“Building a small set, a prototype set, that has capability allows us to do those things without committing to a large program of record that perhaps later doesn’t really do what we want it to do,” Thurgood said. “When I say experimental prototyping with a residual combat capability, it means we build the battery and then that unit will get a combat capability.

The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which received an updated charter last December along with the name change, is tasked with fielding one battery of a Long Range Hypersonic Weapon capability that consists of four vehicles each outfitted with two missiles, according to Thurgood.

“We’re off executing that plan right now. We have all the things in place for the hypersonics program for fielding in ‘23,” Thurgood told reporters.

The joint services are collectively working on the hypersonics effort, signing a memorandum of agreement last June, with the Army taking on the task of producing the glide body.

RCCTO is now readying to move glide body work from Army-funded science and technology work over to industry for experimental prototyping, with a prototype award set to be announced in August.

“We know how to build one of these things already. Now what I have to do is create the capability to field a lot of them. That’s why we need to move it from a government facility into a commercial marketplace,” Thurgood said.

The Army held an industry day in March for the program, and Thurgood said the Army has made its selection for an Other Transaction Authority agreement which is currently being worked through the approval process.

Officials have also finalized decisions on existing capabilities required for the hypersonics battery, including use of the Raytheon’s [RTN] Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System command and control system.

“One of the things you try to do in experimentation and prototyping, when you’re trying to do things fast, is reduce the amount of invention you have to do. Quite frankly, don’t do it when you don’t need to do it,” Thurgood said. “We have a command and control system in the Army, and it works just fine. We have trucks in the Army, they work just fine. I don’t need to reinvent things that are already out there working.”

Thurgood previously noted that decisions on selecting existing trucks and C2 systems to be modified for the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon prototyping package before finalizing plans for flight tests to take place between FY ’20 and ‘23 (Defense Daily, April 25).

RCCTO is still working through a decision to design and build a transporter erector launcher for the hypersonic weapon, according to Thurgood.

For directed energy, RCCTO is set to deliver one battery of 50 kw Stryker-mounted lasers by late FY ’22, he said.

“As part of our modernization plan, we want to accelerate directed energy, lasers and high-powered microwaves into the force. Take it out of S&T where it’s been for awhile,” Thurgood told reporters.