Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Wednesday the Pentagon still has to work on industrial base concerns related to manufacturing capacity for aggressive advancement of hypersonic weapon capabilities and supply chain resiliency for microelectronics.

On hypersonics, specifically, Hicks said she believes more must be done to continue making the case to Congress on the value of the future weapons’ capabilities, to include addressing industrial base-related concerns in the next budget request.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks reacts to the start of her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., Feb. 2, 2021. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

“We knew we had a lot of work to do with [Congress] in terms of making the case that the weapons and capabilities we can deliver are equal to, or even more important, than the platforms on which they reside. I think we’re still really challenged on that case,” Hicks said during a Defense News Conference discussion. “We have some concerns on the overall industry base capability on hypersonics, but there’s a lot of promise in the systems.”

Late last month, the Navy conducted a successful test of the Second Stage Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) for the new missile booster supporting the Pentagon’s effort to develop a common hypersonic missile, which was called “a critical milestone leading up to the next series of Navy and Army joint flight tests” and eventually fielding the hypersonic weapons in the early-to-mid 2020s (Defense Daily, Aug. 26). 

In March 2020, the Pentagon’s research and engineering office established a working group aimed at assessing vulnerabilities in the hypersonics supply chain as the department works to deliver new missiles, launchers and the Common Hypersonic Glide Body over the next decade. 

The Pentagon also previously established a cross-functional team tasked with identifying weak points in the microelectronics supply chain, with Hicks noting she has directed the program to be updated with new authorities to continue addressing challenges. 

“We’ve scrubbed through that team. It has a slightly different approach [now]. It will report through [Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu] now that she’s onboard. But we’ll bring together both that acquisition side and that [research and engineering] side because our challenges in microelectronics are both in our extant systems and the microelectronics in them and how we leap ahead in the future,” Hicks said. 

In April, lead research officials from each of the services told lawmakers that current supply chain vulnerabilities for microelectronics and semiconductors are a “critical concern” that will hamper technology development efforts (Defense Daily, April 21). 

Fragilities in the semiconductor and microelectronics supply chain have been the focus of keen interest over the last several months, to include a new House Armed Services Committee supply chain task force aimed at proposing legislative fixes and the Biden administration issuing an executive order that included assessing the U.S. reliance on foreign production for semiconductors.