Despite grappling with delays, unexpected challenges, and testing failures, US Army officials remain optimistic about the possibility of deploying a cutting-edge by the end of 2023.
During a briefing at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual conference in Washington, DC, on October 9, James Mills, the deputy director of the Army Hypersonics Project Office in the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), expressed unwavering confidence in the timeline for their Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) project.
Mills confidently stated, “We are confident in the calendar year.” While acknowledging that more work is ahead, he highlighted the significant progress achieved so far.
For instance, in 2021, the army successfully deployed a field artillery battery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with essential ground equipment, including Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs) and operational centers.
Mills underscored that the army has possessed these assets for several years and has actively conducted training exercises with them. He also noted the successful efforts in honing communication capabilities and mastering the command-and-control aspect of the system.
This achievement holds particular significance as the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon represents a novel weapon system that has not previously seen deployment or exercise in a battlefield scenario.
The LRHW, also known as Dark Eagle, had been slated to enter Army service by the close of September 2023. However, a critical flight test slated for September 6 had to be canceled after the pre-flight checks, leading to a significant delay in the deployment timeline.
In August, Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition executive, shared that the Army has planned two tests for the weeks before the fiscal year’s end.
The first of these tests was deemed “critical” and intended to encompass an end-to-end evaluation.
At that time, Bush had affirmed the availability of funding and the Army’s commitment to progressing through these final tests, all aimed at ensuring the readiness of this operational weapon.
USA’s Dark Eagle Hypersonic Weapon
Hypersonic weapons can travel at speeds exceeding Mach 5, which is over 3,836 miles per hour. Furthermore, they can adeptly maneuver through different altitudes, rendering them challenging to detect and intercept.
The United States finds itself in a race to deploy hypersonic weapon capabilities and develop systems for defending against hypersonic missiles.
This urgency is driven by both China and Russia’s active development and testing of hypersonic weapons, as these nations vie for dominance in this critical area of military technology.
The Army and Navy have been collaborating on a shared hypersonic glide body that could serve both the Army’s ground-launched Dark Eagle and the Navy’s sea-launched Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) system.
In June 2022, the Navy conducted a test launch of an IRCPS missile at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, where the missile experienced an in-flight anomaly affecting data collection for specific flight segments.
Nonetheless, the Navy swiftly pinpointed the problem’s source and implemented corrective actions, as detailed in the Pentagon’s Office of Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report.
Additionally, the Air Force actively pursues air-launched hypersonic capabilities as part of this broader effort to develop hypersonic weapons.
That being said, the Army aims for Dark Eagle to have a potent and exact strike weapon that can swiftly engage distant high-value targets, offering a significant advantage in evading air defenses.
Dark Eagle is an intermediate-range weapon that is trailer-launched and has an estimated range exceeding 1,700 miles. It is designed to achieve an astonishing peak speed of Mach 17, equivalent to 3.6 miles per second.
A Dark Eagle battery is composed of four trailer-based launchers, each of which accommodates two canister missiles. These launchers are transported on M870 trailers, which are towed by eight-wheeled M983A4 HEMTT tractor-trailer trucks.
Furthermore, a six-wheeled command truck functions as the Battery Operations Center, overseeing the operation of the Dark Eagle system.
US defense giant Lockheed Martin is tasked with serving as the system integrator for the Army’s hypersonic capability, overseeing the seamless deployment of this advanced technology via a mobile truck launcher.
Meeting the revised timeline is of paramount importance for the United States. The sluggish pace of hypersonic weapon development has become a source of significant apprehension, particularly in the context of the major advancements achieved by its global competitors.