Senate panel supports Army hypersonics, questions cost

By Ethan Sterenfeld / September 28, 2021 at 3:05 PM

Senate authorizers are supporting Army efforts to rapidly field land-based hypersonic missiles but are raising concerns about costs in their version of the fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill.

“The committee is encouraged by the speed with which the Army is working to field an initial land-based long-range hypersonic weapons capability in fiscal year 2023,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in the report accompanying its version of the authorization bill.

The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon is expected to be the U.S. military’s first fielded hypersonic weapon if it remains on schedule. The unit that will operate the first battery of eight missiles has already begun training.

After it builds and fields the prototype missiles, the Army will need to pay more attention to costs, which should fall once the weapon enters regular production, the report stated.

“To better understand future costs and inform future decisions, the committee directs the Army to refine the cost estimate for additional currently designed hypersonic glide body missiles that are to be acquired,” the report stated. “Additionally, the committee directs the Army to assess alternatives to the current LRHW missile, to include lower-cost alternatives to glide bodies and air-breathing hypersonic technologies.”

The Army would have to brief the committee by Jan. 15, 2022 on its assessment of alternatives to the current hypersonic technology.

Army officials defended the service’s expansion in long-range fires earlier this year after the chief of Air Force Global Strike Command said land-based missiles replicate existing capabilities at great expense.