'War Room' Set Up To Review Hypersonic Industrial Base

Hypersonic missile
Credit: Raytheon

The U.S. Defense Department’s acquisition leadership has set up a “war room” in the Pentagon to assess the industrial base for hypersonic weapons ahead of a planned production ramp-up within a few years. 

The review comes as the Pentagon prepares to enter a critical period of flight testing for operational prototypes of several hypersonic missiles, beginning shortly with the launch of Flight Experiment-2, involving the Block 1 version of the common hypersonic glide body. 

“We need to understand the breadth and the depth of the industrial base for the new materials for the engineering for fabrication and so forth,” said Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during remarks at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington March 4.

The “war room” approach was first applied by Pentagon acquisition leaders in 2017 to the munitions industry, as that sector of the market prepared for a significant ramp-up after a long period of declining orders. 

In the case of hypersonics, the industrial capability has catered exclusively to the science and technology community for decades. But now it is poised to transition to a mainstream production effort, with boost-glide vehicles and scramjet-powered cruise missiles in development as weapon systems.   

The war room itself is a physical location in the Pentagon. Tables, graphs and charts are pinned to the walls, showing gaps and surpluses of required materials and components.

“It’s a way to visually bring in different industry partners and talk about specific items to understand where we have fragility, where we have capability, where we need to put any government money into developing new capability,” Lord said. 

The war room review is co-chaired by Kevin Fahey, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, and Mark Lewis, deputy director for research and engineering. 

“We’re obviously in a position now to develop concepts. We develop the prototypes, but producing at scale is, you know, a different proposition,” Lewis told journalists March 2. 

Lewis cited the example of a scramjet engine. “It’s not just materials. It’s production capabilities, manufacturing capability and high-temperature materials,” Lewis said. “We’re really interested in what are our capabilities now.”

Steve Trimble

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