The U.S. government is spending $15 billion on hypersonic weapons spread out over 70 separate efforts across three departments and agencies in the areas of offensive weapons, new technologies and defensive capabilities, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a report this week.
The Department of Defense accounts for nearly all of the spending, with NASA just two percent and the Department of Energy doing work in support of DoD, GAO says in Hypersonic Weapons, DoD Should Clarify Roles and Responsibilities to Ensure Coordination across Development Efforts (GAO-21-378). Most of the funding over the 10-year period examined by GAO is for the development of offensive hypersonic weapons.
From fiscal year 2015 through FY ’19, most hypersonic funding was for technology development, with FY ’19 being the first year showing a significant increase in spending on product development, $610 million versus $150 the previous year, the report shows. Spending on technology development between FY ’15 and FY ’19 grew from $290 million to more than $1.3 billion.
Beginning in FY ’20, funding for hypersonic product development began to outpace spending on technology development, $1.5 billion versus $1 billion respectively. In the current fiscal year, FY ’21, the three departments and agencies are spending $1.8 billion on product development and $540 million on technology development.
From FY ’22 through FY ’24, spending on product development is forecast to level off, staying around $1.8 billion for the next two years before declining to $1.3 billion. In that same period, technology development spending will continue to decline, going from $460 million in FY ’22 to $310 million in FY ’23 and $270 million in FY ’24, GAO says.
Overall, during the 10-year period covered by GAO, nearly $9 billion or 60 percent, is being spent on product development.
The Navy accounts for most of the spending, $6.2 billion, followed by the Air Force with $3.6 billion, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering nearly $1.6 billion, the Army just over $1.5 billion, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency nearly $1.2 billion, followed by the Missile Defense Agency with $480 million. NASA is spending $290 million on technology development, the report says.
Of the 70 hypersonic efforts identified by GAO, 65 are in the area of technology development and five are in product development.
Regarding coordination challenges, GAO says that NASA and the Energy Department have agreements with DoD on supporting roles but those roles, responsibilities and authorities haven’t been documented.
“Such governing documentation would provide for a level of continuity when leadership and organizational priorities inevitably change, especially as hypersonic weapon development effort are expected to continue over at least the next decade,” the report says. “Without clear leadership roles, responsibilities and authorities, DoD is at risk of impeding its progress toward delivering hypersonic weapon capabilities and opening the potential for conflict and wasted resources as decisions over larger investments are made in the future.”