After several difficulties and delays, the Army is reconsidering its testing strategy for its long-range Dark Eagle hypersonic missile. The missiles are expected to be operational by next summer.
Rescheduling tests after suspension
Various flight tests of the Dark Eagle have been canceled, the most recent scheduled for October 26. Now, officials are plotting a new strategy.
Undersecretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush told DefenseScoop that a “big meeting” took place last week. Participating in this meeting were his Navy counterpart Frederick “Jay” Stefany, his military deputies, and prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
The Army and Navy are working together on the development of hypersonic technology. “It’s a joint program,” Bush explained during an interview at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “So it was me, Mr. Stefany, the two three-star officers and Lockheed who worked to find out exactly what had happened and, at the same time, put together the new test schedule.”
The goal is to conduct more aggressive testing of the missile while the problem with the launcher is investigated. Once there is confidence in both, an operational test will be scheduled using all the actual equipment.
Acquisition Priority: Hypersonic Weapons
Hypersonic weapons, designed to fly above Mach 5 and overwhelm enemy air defenses, are one of the U.S. military’s top procurement priorities. The expensive Dark Eagle program is a crucial part of the Army’s long-range fire modernization portfolio.
The United States’ competitors, China and Russia, are also pursuing hypersonics, and the Pentagon is trying to keep pace.
The Dark Eagle program has been well attended due to the Army’s need to move quickly. Bush noted that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, he expressed confidence that they would find the problem once the teams were fully synchronized and integrated.
Testing the subcomponents is expected to help build confidence before spending more money on another operational test. This will delay the process somewhat, but the hope is that a full operational test can be carried out in 2024 to give the go-ahead for deployment.
Future goals and technology development
The initial goal was to have the system ready before the end of fiscal year 2023. Meanwhile, the Army is working on a separate long-range fire modernization effort known as the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) program.
For the second increment of the PrSM , the service plans to equip the system with a multi-mode seeker that would allow the weapon to attack ships at sea.
DefenseScoop asked Bush if, in the future, the Army could integrate that type of technology into the Dark Eagle to give it anti-ship capability. Although no decision has yet been made on the matter, Bush indicated that they are considering working with the Navy to improve the Dark Eagle with future blocks, especially the glide body.
If the weapon works and they feel safe with it, and the military decides an anti-ship version is worth developing, it’s something they could do…potentially.