US Navy Announces Three Successful Hypersonic Flight Tests

The US Navy announced on October 21 that it and the US Army had successfully conducted a series of test flights of prototype hypersonic weapon components. In a statement, the Navy said that the test results would “inform” the development of the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) and the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon programs.

The High Operational Tempo for Hypersonics flight campaign was jointly organized by the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) and the Army Hypersonic Program Office (AHPO) and was carried out at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia by Sandia National Laboratories. Three precision sounding rockets were launched during the October 20 test, with the rockets containing hypersonic “technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems” from partners including CPS, AHPO, the Joint Hypersonic Transition Office, SNL, Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, MITRE, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and several defense contractors.

US Army graphic on the planned implementation of its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon

According to the Navy, the test demonstrated the prototypes in a realistic operating environment, describing it as a “vital step” in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile that will be fielded by both the Navy and Army. The Navy says that precision sounding rocket launches fill a critical gap between ground testing and full system flight testing, allowing for “frequent and regular” flight testing opportunities supporting the rapid maturation of both offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies. The Navy states that it will continue to collaborate with the Army to leverage joint testing opportunities, noting that both “routinely” share data with the Missile Defense Agency to support its work on developing hypersonic defenses.

Another component of the common hypersonic missile, the Sandia-developed Common Hypersonic Glide Body, had been successfully tested in March 2020. The CHGB is planned to make its first flight with a Lockheed Martin-designed booster next year.

A Lockheed Martin-designed solid rocket booster for the Common Hypersonic Glide Body undergoes testing. (Lockheed Martin)

The test took place on the same day as President Joe Biden said to reporters in Pennsylvania that he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missile developments. Beijing has in recent days denied a report in the Financial Times that it had tested a hypersonic vehicle in August that circled the globe after being launched into space, albeit missing its intended target after slowing to a cruise.