The United States military is currently amid a transitional phase, reducing the emphasis we’ve placed on anti-insurgency and hunting terrorists in favor of preparing for the possibility of “near-peer” level opponents such as China and Russia.  The problem is, transitions take time – especially for a military continuously hindered by defense contractors prioritizing profits over production, and by the grudgingly slow pace of approval for defense related acquisitions.

Our system, as it stands, can be heralded or derided depending on perspective: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers, for instance, are both examples of incredible technological achievements and horrendous spending practices run amok.  Our nation will likely benefit from their development, but we can only afford to issue so many multi-billion dollar contracts without any incentive to come in under cost or on time.  In order to make the shift we need, a concerted effort must be placed on keeping costs, and timelines, as small as possible – so there’s enough time and money to accomplish what we must in order to ensure our national security.

Engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in China Lake, California seem to have been working with just such a mindset, designing and testing a new ram jet missile system in just six months, using products they were able to purchase off the shelf with credit cards, rather than waiting months for sourcing bids and pricey supply contracts.  Their methodology resulted in a price tag low enough for them to plan on repeated failures during their testing process – and by alleviating their fear of failure, it would seem these engineers managed to accomplish something incredible.

“If you have a small team, you can just get together and draw on a whiteboard on the fly and not have to worry about getting the large team involved and buy-in from everyone,” said Matt Walker, the head of the Airbreathing Propulsion Section at NAWCWD.  He and his team converted the concept of ramjet propulsion, which was originally conceived nearly ninety years ago, into a cost and combat effective missile platform that may even outperform its more expensive contemporaries.