In a recent briefing at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual conference in Washington, DC, officials of the US Army have reiterated their determination to deploy cutting-edge, long-range hypersonic weapons by the end of this year.
Optimism in the Face of Delays
Despite grappling with delays, unexpected challenges, and testing failures, the Army remains confident in the timeline for their Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) project, also known as Dark Eagle.
James Mills, the deputy director of the Army Hypersonics Project Office in the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), expressed unwavering confidence during the conference.
“We are confident in the calendar year,” Mills remarked at the event early this week, cited by Janes.
While acknowledging the hurdles ahead, he highlighted the substantial progress achieved thus far.
One significant milestone was the successful deployment of a field artillery battery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2021, complete with essential ground equipment such as Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs) and operational centers.
The US Army had maintained these assets for several years and conducted training exercises with them, including honing communication capabilities and mastering the command-and-control aspect of the system.
The successful deployment and exercises were critical given that the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon represents a novel system that has not been previously exercised in a battlefield scenario.
Dark Eagle Hypersonic Missile: A Revolutionary Weapon System
The LRHW, Dark Eagle, had initially been slated to enter Army service by the close of September 2023. However, a significant setback occurred when a critical flight test scheduled for September 6 had to be canceled following pre-flight checks—resulting in a substantial delay in the deployment timeline.
In August, Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition executive, announced plans for two tests to be conducted in the weeks leading up to the fiscal year’s end. The first of these tests was deemed “critical” and was intended to encompass an end-to-end evaluation.
Bush 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.
The Army aims with Dark Eagle to create a potent and precise strike weapon capable of swiftly engaging distant high-value targets, offering a significant advantage in evading air defenses. Dark Eagle is an intermediate-range, trailer-launched weapon that boasts 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 consists of four trailer-based launchers, each accommodating two canister missiles. These launchers are transported on M870 trailers, towed by eight-wheeled M983A4 HEMTT tractor-trailer trucks. A six-wheeled command truck serves 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. Their involvement underscores the importance of successful implementation.
The Global Hypersonic Race
Hypersonic weapons, capable of traveling at speeds exceeding Mach 5 (over 3,836 miles per hour), can adeptly maneuver through various altitudes, making them exceptionally 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 sense of urgency is driven by China and Russia’s active development and testing of hypersonic weapons as they vie for dominance in this critical area of military technology.
Staying Ahead in a Competitive Landscape
The Army and Navy have been working collaboratively 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. However, 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 is actively pursuing air-launched hypersonic capabilities as part of the broader effort to develop hypersonic weapons. The collaboration across the branches underscores the gravity of hypersonic technology’s strategic importance.
Meeting the revised timeline of deploying hypersonic weapons by the end of 2023 is of paramount importance for the United States. The slow 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.
The United States Army remains committed to deploying its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, or Dark Eagle, by the end of 2023. Despite delays and challenges, Army officials are confident in the project’s progress and the importance of achieving this milestone in the face of global competition. The collaboration between branches of the military and defense contractors underscores the significance of hypersonic technology in modern warfare.
The world is watching as the United States races to deploy this cutting-edge capability.