The Pentagon’s plan to deploy the first hypersonics and directed energy (DE) weapons capabilities by the early 2020s and match increasing investments from China and Russia will require the services to unify their technological modernization efforts, a top DoD official said Wednesday.

Mary Miller, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, told attendees at a National Defense Industrial Association event that the Army, Air Force and Navy have to coordinate prototyping efforts as the department looks to spend $4.9 billion on hypersonics and $2.2 billion toward DE development through fiscal year 2023.

Mary Miller,  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
Mary Miller, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering

“When we started to look at what China and Russia had been investing in over the past 15-plus years, we found that they could hold us at risk. This is an unacceptable situation. We know that they have missiles that can outrange our missiles. We know that they have missiles that can outrange our radars that can detect those missiles. This is a problem,” Miller said. “When we set this path for modernization forward we determined a few things that the services actually could unify around and agree. We need to have mission focus.”

Michael Griffin, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, has called hypersonics his top technology development priority as the Pentagons looks to match China and Russia’s efforts to field the first capabilities by the early 2020s.

Griffin’s office has centered the service’s immediate efforts on a plan to work through concept maturation through prototyping, according to Miller, with a focus on developing air-, sea- and ground-launched boost glide strike weapons.

“We have the services all in on working hypersonics. We have land-, sea- and air-based prototyping that will be done,” Miller said. “China and Russia have been expending a lot of their resources to get hypersonics. They can hold us at risk. They can keep us off of their borders and they can certainly threaten our carriers. This is a great concern.”

Senior service leadership is currently working to coordinate kill chain considerations for counter-hypersonics technology and assessing industry ability to deliver aero-thermodynamic design concepts, according to Miller.

“[The USD(R&E)] will be looking portfolio-wide, across the services and agencies, to ensure that we have the pieces of the kill chain all showing up at about the right timeframe so when we field them to the combatant commands they get a holistic capability,” Miller said.

Miller said there are near-term industry opportunities to work on flight testbeds for operational testing and boost and cruise propulsion technology for hypersonics, both needed to ensure DoD has a more affordable method for evaluating hypersonics capabilities.

Recent advancements in DE weapons continue to make the technology increasing viable, according to Miller, but he noted the services don’t believe capabilities are ready for routine use in the battlefield.

“We’re finally starting to make a big dent in where technology is and what we can do with it. We have all the services doing prototypes, as they should, to make sure that the directed energy capabilities bring value to their mission,” Miller said.

Pentagon officials are calling on Army, Air Force and Navy leadership to coordinate DE testing needs and evaluate their unique platform integration requirements.

Miller said DoD has 100 kilowatt lasers, but future mission requirements will require 300kw up through 1 megawatt. The Navy has further requested a technology capable of reaching 2 megawatts.

“We have a laser scaling initiative to increase the power and look at technology that can increase the power that will be utilized by all of the services”

DoD has made significant progress in Combined Fiber Lasers and High Power Microwaves and plans to hold major technology demonstrations over the next three years, according to Miller.

“The secretary will say he wants to have multiple ways to get the mission done. He does not want to be predictable. And we are very predictable. And our adversaries watch us and they pretty much know what we’re going to do. We need to shake it up a bit,” Miller said.