The Defense Department needs to be more consistent in its plans and outlook for developing and acquiring hypersonic weapons to ensure it has a ready industrial base to build these systems, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) says in a new report.

DoD has been “ambiguous” in its commitment to hypersonic systems, making it a priority some years and then wavering, says the report, Hypersonics Supply Chains: Securing The Path To The Future.

“As such, the current supply chains, including the manufacturing base, supply of critical materials, testing infrastructure, and workforce are incapable of supporting DoD’s ambitious plans,” it says.

The 52-page report examines various categories of the supply chain, including critical raw materials, the manufacturing base and workforce, security—including cybersecurity, espionage and intellectual property theft—and international partnerships. Some of the challenges relating to raw materials include foreign reliance, shortages, few suppliers and competition with other industries.

The report highlights that there are only three suppliers of carbon-carbon, the only coating option for higher speed hypersonic vehicles. Recognizing this, DoD has funded one of its manufacturing institutes to research alternate materials and is also contracting to expand domestic production of the higher temperature composites, it says.

“These are both steps in the right direction, but will likely take a significant amount of time to yield results,” NDIA says. “In the near-term, the current size of the supply base is a significant barrier to scaling hypersonic systems.”

Carbon fiber, which is lightweight and corrosion resistant and a key ingredient in high temperature materials, is a key material for the aerospace and defense industry and to a lesser extent the wind energy industry, the report highlights. As demand for wind energy increases, so will the need for carbon fiber, which could result in capacity shortfalls within a few years, it says.

NDIA recommends that DoD send a “consistent” demand signal throughout the industrial base to incentivize expanded production capacity for carbon fiber.

A consistent demand signal is also important to strengthen the manufacturing base, the report says, pointing out that that all the working groups involved in the study “raised this as a significant barrier to scaling up the hypersonics industrial base.” Transitioning hypersonic weapons into programs of record as part of the annual DoD budget process is “The clearest way to send this demand signal,” it adds.

China and other foreign adversaries are key suppliers for some raw materials used in hypersonic systems and the U.S. should look to Australia and Canada as potential alternatives for these resources, NDIA says. Australia has large deposits of rare earth elements, cobalt and nickel and Canada has large deposits of nickel.

The U.S. should seek to have Australia and Canada expand their mining operations for these materials, NDIA says.