Ready, Fire, Aim: PACAF Chief Emphasizes Hypersonics

As the U.S. Defense Department accelerates hypersonic weapons fielding, the air force’s top commander in the Pacific region emphasizes that the missile isn’t the only technology required to realize an operational capability to strike targets at speeds faster than Mach 5.

The air force plans to achieve an early operational capability in fiscal 2022 with the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, a maneuvering boost glide missile fired from the wing of an aircraft, such as a Boeing B-52.  
Such weapons are capable of hitting targets at ranges over 1,000 km within 10 min., but similarly new advances in intelligence-gathering and command and control infrastructure are required in order to make full use of them, said Gen. Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces.  
“In the time of flight, eight to 10 minutes, I’ve got to have pretty good intel that the target is still going to be there, particularly if it’s a mobile target,” Brown said. “Those are things I’m thinking about. It’s nice to have this weapon, but I’ve got to have the whole thing.” 
The Defense Department also is working on other long-range-missile technologies. In August, Russia and the U.S. governments withdrew from the 32-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, allowing both countries to follow China’s lead in fielding ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 km and 5,000 km. Since August, the DOD has demonstrated a rudimentary ground-launched cruise missile and ballistic missile in flight, but a fielding decision is still pending a policy decision by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). 
Brown could offer no update on the status of the policy decision.  
“That may be a logical conclusion, but I’d refer you to OSD on where their approach is and where the department might land as far as where we’re going in the future,” Brown said.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.