The cancelation of a key test of the Army’s new hypersonic weapon wasn’t the result of a major glitch in the system and officials are hopeful that the capability can be fielded before the end of the calendar year, according to the service’s acquisition chief.
The Army was hoping to field the initial battery of the Dark Eagle missiles, previously known as the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), before the end of fiscal 2023 on Sept. 30. However, the scrubbing of a test scheduled for earlier this month has led to slippage in the timeline.
A previous test in March also had to be called off due to an issue with the battery activation, officials said at the time. However, the recent postponement was due to an issue with the weapon, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush told reporters during a meeting at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
“It was weapon-related … it was the system itself. There was a flaw that triggered a ‘don’t shoot’ [message], basically. It’s like if you can imagine a countdown for rocket launch, something flagged in the system and said ‘stop here.’ And that was like two seconds away. So pretty close,” he said.
Bush was asked if the problem was a major glitch that wasn’t anticipated.
“It was not. I wouldn’t say we anticipated it or we fixed it. But I think it’s an example though, when you take a system, for example, you know, take the missile and you put it into what’s going to be an operational launcher — this is where you learn that integration. It might sound simple, but it’s not,” he said.
The event wasn’t expected to be a “full-up” operational test, but something close to it, he suggested.
“A lot of soldiers were involved. We used the real hardware, we used the real software. So unfortunately we had that glitch. But we believe we have a test campaign scheduled for the rest of the year that could still — if it goes well — enable [an] end-of-the-year thumbs up on fielding … to the first battery,” Bush said. “We’ll see. Still gotta have a good test.”
Bush did not disclose when the test is now slated to take place.
Hypersonic weapons are a top modernization priority for the Pentagon as it seeks new quick-strike capabilities. These types of missiles are designed to fly faster than Mach 5, be highly maneuverable and pose a major challenge for adversaries’ air defense systems.
The Army and Navy have been working together on a common hypersonic glide body that could be used for the Army’s ground-launched Dark Eagle and the Navy’s sea-launched Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) system. The Air Force is also pursuing air-launched hypersonics.
Having the schedule slip for the Dark Eagle isn’t a huge surprise, Bush said.
Other Army officials have previously said the service was taking on a lot of risk to meet the original goal for fielding.
“This is an equivalent of a Major Defense Acquisition Program. It is extremely complicated. It’s an entirely new missile, new launcher, new fire control,” Bush said. “So, if we stay on our revised testing plan … our goal is now the end of the calendar year to get a fielded system with a test to validate it. I think three months [slippage] in the grand scheme of things is not that big a deal. But that’s for others to judge, especially for a system this complicated.”