REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A flight test of the joint Army-Navy hypersonic glide vehicle across the Pacific March 19 was a success thanks to a dedicated team who managed complexity and change, officials said.
“We had a great team executing this,” said Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition for the Army. In an interview Monday, he added that he can’t thank the joint team enough for their “phenomenal job.”
A joint team of Soldiers, Sailors, Defense Department civilians, contractors, national labs, and industry partners spent months preparing for the launch at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
A COMPLEX ENDEAVOR
Flight tests like this one are highly complex endeavors, officials said, adding personnel begin traveling to the site weeks in advance of the mission to get everything in place, from assembling the missile, to putting monitoring equipment in place, to running safety drills and developing detailed countdown procedures.
A large number of the support personnel in Kauai had worked on hypersonic technologies for years, and applied their previous flight test experiences to this event.
There were some differences this time, though, to usual flight test operations as some travel restrictions were put in place in the final days leading up to the test in response to COVID-19, according to Joel Shady, flight test director.
“With the COVID virus, there were activities that didn’t go according to the way we had initially planned out,” he said.
Some of the tasks had to be accomplished through video teleconferences and phone calls, Shady said.
“That made it very challenging,” he said, “but it’s very rewarding when, after everything was said and done, we did everything we were supposed to do.”
Shady, who works for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, had spent about 40 days on Kauai preparing for the flight test.
“It was tough being away from family, knowing a certain amount of crazy was going on in the world,” he said, “and you’re not there to help them.”
As flight director, his job was to “choreograph” the entire operation, he said, overseeing everything from environmental compliance to safety and launch procedures.
“We take the program’s objectives, turn those into measurable requirements and then assign all the test resources that are going to ensure we collect the information,” he said.
The rapport that developed among all the team members was outstanding, he said, and team members from Navy, Army and industry partners worked well together.
The common hypersonic glide body will be common between both Navy and Army, so the two services continue to work closely together every step of the way. Navy is lead for the design of the CHGB, and Army is lead for production.
About 60 percent of the military members at the Kauai test facility were Navy, Shady said. In addition, naval vessels were deployed across the Pacific to observe the trajectory of the hypersonic glide vehicle, said Navy Capt. John Lowery, program manager, Conventional Prompt Strike, U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs.
Dr. Sidney Beck, chief engineer, Naval Ordnance Test Unit, was the overall mission director in charge of the test, and was at Kauai, overseeing the assembly, integration, testing and countdown of the missile that carried the payload downrange.
The hypersonic glide body in last week’s test will be upgraded, he and Lowery said, for the next hypersonic test. A new booster, currently being developed by the Navy, will be demonstrated within future tests as well, they said.
“We’re building at stages and maturing the design,” Lowery said. “So this was a natural step in the progression of this technology, regardless of whether you were launching this off an Army vehicle or a submarine.”
BUILDING AN INDUSTRIAL BASE
The hypersonic glide body tested Thursday was produced at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in collaboration with government researchers.
The common hypersonic glide body is actually government-owned technology produced over the years, Thurgood pointed out. “Lots of government agencies had a hand in developing this technology,” he stressed.
The hypersonic glide body for later tests and fielded prototypes, however, will be built by Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama, Thurgood said.
Dynetics was awarded a competitive contract to become the first industry producer of the hypersonic glide vehicle, he said.
“The [science and technology] community that developed this technology is now … transitioning to industry so that we can build these at a much higher rate and a much faster speed,” Thurgood explained.
“It’s pretty unique, that as we build the weapons system, we’re also building an industrial base to go along with it,” he said.
FIELDING A CAPABILITY
Every test builds upon the past, he said. “So we try to go further, we try to go faster, we try to put it in a more stressful environment,” he added.
“The data we collect goes to what modifications we make to the system and it also helps [the Missile Defense Agency] as they inform their development of the capabilities for the defense of hypersonic weapons,” Thurgood said.
He explained that members of the MDA attended the test to collect information on how enemy hypersonic weapons might be stopped.
“We try not to leave any stone unturned in terms of sharing data across the community,” Thurgood said, “because missile test data can be used for lots of outcomes.”
The Army plans to field a long-range hypersonic battery in 2023, he said. The unit will use M983 prime-mover trucks and revamped M870 trailers to haul the hypersonic glide vehicles from one launch site to another.
“So the strategy is… reuse as much as common in the Army as possible,” he said. “That way we reduce our logistics burden, reduce our training burden and we actually use the equipment our Soldiers are familiar with.”