U.S. Army Chooses First Hypersonic Weapons Unit, Begins Equipping

The U.S. Army has chosen the first unit that will be equipped with hypersonic weapons, as the Pentagon races to catch up with rivals including Russia and China in a field that could reshape the modern battlefield.

Defense News reported Wednesday that the Army has now begun sending the required equipment to the unit—which as of yet remains unidentified—to prepare its members to handle hypersonic weapons still under development.

Lieutenant General L. Neil Thurgood, the director of the Army's Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, told Defense News earlier this week that all needed equipment is due to be delivered to the unit in question by September.

The only item that will not be delivered will be a live hypersonic weapon. A finished weapon is due to be delivered in 2023, Thurgood said.

Hypersonic weapons require an infrastructure around them to be used on the battlefield. This includes launchers, trucks, trailers and a battle operation center. Together, the Army unit will constitute a ground-launched hypersonic weapons battery.

The next hypersonic missile test is scheduled for the third quarter of this year, but the chosen Army unit will not be involved. Instead, it will begin training in October for involvement in the first joint flight test being planned with the Navy for early 2022. It will then be involved in subsequent tests later that year and in 2023.

Hypersonic weapons represent an unprecedented threat given their high speed—Mach 5 and above, or around 3,836 miles per hour—flat trajectory and ability to maneuver in flight, making them more difficult for defenders to intercept.

The U.S. appears to be lagging behind its rivals in Russia and China on hypersonic technology. Russia has already deployed two operational hypersonic weapons with troops, President Vladimir Putin describing the new family of arms as "invincible" and claiming that Russian advances had made existing ballistic missile defenses defunct.

Hypersonic weapons are a top priority for the Pentagon. Last year, former President Donald Trump's administration proposed a 23 percent increase in funding for hypersonic weapons.

The Army and Navy are working on a joint hypersonic weapon known as the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body, which had its first successful flight in March hitting within six inches of its target according to U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

The Navy is hoping to field its first ship-launched hypersonic weapon by 2023 followed by a submarine-launched missile in 2024.

The Air Force, meanwhile, is working on its own project—the Lockheed Martin's AGM-183A air-launched rapid-response weapon, also known as ARRW. The ARRW's early testing phase is now complete, with operational testing slated to begin in October 2021 and delivery in 2022.

Lockheed Martin is also serving as the the weapon system integrator for the Army's hypersonic weapon, with the glide body itself made by Dynetics.

Thurgood told Defense News Dynetics is now preparing to build the first glide bodies at its facility in Huntsville, Alabama, following a research phase at the government's Sandia National Laboratories. "The transition is going well," Thurgood said. "Transitioning production technology is not as easy as people might perceive it to be," he added.

ARRW hypersonic missile at Edwards AFB
This file photo shows members of an Air Force maintenance squadron working on a hypersonic ARRW missile at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on August 6, 2020. Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem/U.S. Air Force