Hypersonic Strike and Defense: A Conversation with Mike White
Tom Karako: Well, good afternoon. Thanks, everyone, for joining. I’m Tom Karako, and on behalf of the CSIS Missile Defense Project we’re happy to welcome today Mr. Mike White to kick us off for a half-day event on “Hypersonic Strike and Defense.”
Mr. White, of course, is the principal director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He’s published numerous papers on this topic over the years, and his previous experience includes serving as the head of the air and missile defense sector at Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics lab.
We’ve got a very robust online audience today, because of the topic and for our speaker. Before we get started, I want to just remind folks online that there’s a box or a button on the CSIS event webpage and you can use that to submit questions for Mr. White. And through the magic of 5G wireless technology, which I think is one of the priorities for R&E, that’ll come to my tablet and I’ll pose the questions to our speaker.
So the first part of today is going to be a conversation with the two of us. And then after a short break we’ll break for about 15 minutes and then we’ll come back and have an industry panel kind of looking at some of the same questions, with representatives of three defense primes. So, Mike, thank you for joining us.
Mike White: My pleasure, Tom.
Tom Karako: I think this might be the first time you’re at CSIS. So glad to have you.
Mike White: I believe so, yeah.
Tom Karako: I wonder if you might start with – kick us off with just a little bit about your position, what you’re up to and, of course, what I think everybody wants to hear about, the ’22 budget submission. So over to you.
Mike White: All right. Thanks, Tom. Appreciate being here and the opportunity to speak. As you mentioned, I’m the principal director for hypersonics in R&E. And R&E has developed a set of modernization priorities to be responsive to the National Defense Strategy and to make sure that we are delivering the warfighting capability we need to deter and, if necessary, defeat our future adversaries in a highly competitive and constrained battlefield environment. Hypersonics is a key element of a kinetic modernization activity in delivering high-speed, long-range, highly survivable lethal effects to take out targets of highest priority in the battlefield.
In my responsibility as a principal director, I’m responsible not only for the delivery of transformational warfighting capability based on hypersonic systems on the offensive side, but also making sure that we are positioned well in defense against adversary hypersonics. So working very closely with the services in developing offensive strike capabilities, and with the Missile Defense Agency and the Space Development Agency on the defense against hypersonics side as well. And so it really keeps things pretty busy, relative to the orchestration, if you will, the coordination, the integration of the department-wide activity related to offensive and defensive hypersonics.
Let me just key on that for a second and make sure I emphasize that it is really, truly an integrated activity. It’s integrated within the offensive construct and the services working together to develop a transformational warfighting capability to deliver hypersonic strike effects from air, land, and sea launch platforms. But it’s also integrated from the perspective of the offensive and defensive side. As we move into the discovery phase for how we actually transition hypersonic system concepts and technologies into warfighting capability, there’s a lot to be learned in all of our activity – ground test, technology development, and flight test – relative to future offensive systems, as well as defense against future systems.
So for an example, when we do a flight test of a future offensive strike concept, the Missile Defense Agency takes advantage of that flight test to gather data to help define and direct future defensive system capability. So we’re working truly across the department – agencies, services – to make sure that we’re integrating the knowledge gained throughout our portfolio to maximize the capability and to accelerate the transition of the capability to the warfighter. I often describe my position not as a hypersonic – from the perspective of hypersonics, because, you know, we tend to – in the world of hypersonics, we tend to think technology.
We tend to think the laboratory and kind of building out from the laboratory. Really, I describe my position as delivering transformational warfighting capability that is based on hypersonic systems. So I say that now for the second time because it really is what we’re trying to do. It’s how do we make sure we look at what the war fighter needs from an offensive and defensive perspective, and then accelerate the transition of the technologies and concepts in the hypersonic domain to deliver transformational warfighting effects to serve those needs moving forward.
So it’s an important area, important topic. We’ve got great interest throughout the department, great interest on the Hill, great support in what we’re trying to do. I think in a number of the talks I’ve given recently I’ve gone through the strategy of what we’re trying to do, so I won’t do that here again. Suffice it to say, as a reminder, we’ve got a three-element strategy. Offensive, defensive capabilities being two of the three elements and the third element being future reusable systems. So think hypersonic aircraft – reusable hypersonic aircraft. And we’re working on all three of those elements at various degrees of acceleration throughout the portfolio.
What I’ll focus on just in my opening comments, and then turn it over, obviously, for your questions, is that very recent, Friday, the budget dropped for ’22. And the budget drop for ’22 is a very important statement from the department about the importance of hypersonics, and the department’s decision to fund our accelerated fielding strategy, both on the offensive side and then move forward to accelerate our defensive posture as well. And so we’ve got strong commitment in the new administration for our strategy, and moving forward to really rapidly mature and deliver hypersonic base capabilities.
Tom Karako: Great. All right. Well, thank you. Let me just begin with a couple questions that are going to seem to you super elementary. But for those of us who have never been confused with engineers or physics guys, you know, when you say hypersonic, what does that mean exactly? What is the set of characteristics that you include in that bucket?
Mike White: Yeah. If I were to summarize hypersonics in one word, or two words, I’d say “really fast,” right? So the traditional kind of rule of thumb that we use for hypersonics is you’re flying five times the speed of sound. And the speed of sound, you know, at sea level is on the order of 740 miles an hour, or so. So, you know, think 3,500-3,700 miles an hour at sea level. But obviously we’re flying at much higher altitude. It’s a little bit lower at higher altitude.
Tom Karako: It’s a sustained flight. It’s not an RV that’s –
Mike White: So, that was going to be my next point, is that it’s sustained flight within the atmosphere at speeds around Mach 5, right? You know, there’s no magic thing that happens at Mach 5.0 versus 4.9 or 4.8 or 4.7. You know, hypersonic really is a class of supersonic flight that is characterized by pushing the envelope relative to the – I’ll call it the aerothermodynamic performance of a vehicle. The temperatures get really hot. You have to worry about chemistry in the air, whereas at lower supersonic speeds you don’t have to worry about the air breaking down and the chemical kinetics in the air. So there’s some technical characteristics of hypersonic flight that are important to the engineers in designing vehicles, and thermal protection systems, and the way – the way vehicles fly.
But we really – we really want to make sure that what we’re trying to do is characterize what we’re doing as high-speed systems on the order of Mach 5 and above. We go significantly above Mach 5. But those systems have the speed necessary to fly sustained flight in the atmosphere, be maneuverable at the high altitudes afforded by that sustained high-speed flight and be able to deliver long-range lethal effect at very short time scales.
Tom Karako: So, you know, folks will usually talk about two types of hypersonic missiles – gliders and scramjets. I guess my question for you is, is it really the case that there are two types? Or is it more of a spectrum, or more of a family of not really propulsion types but types of flight? How do you think about that?
Mike White: Yeah, so typically you think of things in terms of hypersonic boost glide systems and then hypersonic cruise missiles as kind of the two general categories. But you’re right, there is somewhat of a spectrum. The characteristic that we use to really define hypersonic boost glide systems is that pretty much all of the energy added to the hypersonic body is added in a boost rocket stage. And then after that, you glide and actually – you encounter drag, and that energy gets dissipated, and you slow down. So typically boost glide systems boost very high Mach numbers, especially those going very long range, and then they gradually slow down and get to their end state for their effect.
For hypersonic cruise missiles, your initial boost is just to your – essentially at or even below your hypersonic cruise Mach number. So you can go all the way to the end state and say, if I want to – if I want to turn down into my target at five times the speed of sound, I can boost four times the speed of sound. My cruise missile scramjet engine can accelerate me from Mach 4 to Mach 5, and then I can just cruise with that engine at Mach 5. So you really need no more energy necessary than to boost to that lower Mach number.
So your rocket motors become much, much smaller and your sustained propulsion, as your airbreathing propulsion. So you carry your fuel, but then you burn the oxygen in the air. And so they tend to be much smaller systems. So if you think about long-range hypersonic systems that will fight on a fighter, as an example, you generally want to think about a cruise missile to get to the very long ranges.
Tom Karako: But there’s prospect of blending that.
Mike White: There’s prospects of blending it. There are concepts where you have very large hypersonic boost glide systems that have scramjets on it, to try to minimize that reduction in velocity and get very, very long ranges. There are, you know, aerothermal or boosting systems that are – you know, rocket-boosting systems that kind of are not traditional boost glide systems, but they’re – but they’re more boost and then aerodynamic controlled rocket motors, like you would see with a standard missile, or a THAAD, or something like that, that you would typically have. So there are blends, but for the most part the advanced systems we’re looking at kind of fall into, you know, rocket motor boost, to a high Mach number, and then glide or control in sustained flight to the target, or boost to a cruise and scramjet propulsion.
Tom Karako: So that’s kind of the “what.” Let me move to kind of the “whys” and the “hows.” You know, what’s the demand signal that you’re hearing? You’ve mentioned, I think, the word “warfighter” multiple times in the past couple minutes. You know, what is it that a strike package that includes hypersonic things – what is it that that gives a commander that a package of only supersonic and subsonic things does not?
Mike White: Yeah. That’s a great question. And if you look at our portfolio of strike capabilities right now for very long range, it basically is limited to subsonic cruise missiles. You know, we’ve got JASSM, JASSM-ER. We got Tomahawk LRASM is coming online for anti-ship missile. Those are Mach 0.6, Mach 0.7 kind of systems. So if you want to fly 500 miles, it’s going to take you an hour to get there, from the time you launch the weapon to the time you get there. So the high-speed systems that we’re developing, the high-speed strike systems do that 500 miles in only – on the order of 10 minutes. And so you can just look at the timescale and the compression of the timescale in the battlefield that’s going to be a critical value proposition, if you will, for the hypersonic systems.
Our adversaries have a significant inventory of ballistic missiles. They have a significant and are developing a significant inventory of fielded and future hypersonic missiles. And so if you were in a battlefield timescale environment where they’re launching strike packages that take on the order of minutes, and our strike packages take on the order of hours, that’s not a timescale that you – you know, that’s a timescale asymmetry that we need to make sure we’re not – we’re not allowing to stand. So our development of hypersonic systems for the tactical battlefield really is to make sure that we have the ability to compress that, and operate in a compressed battlefield timescale, necessary to deter future conflict.
Tom Karako: And not just go faster to get over there, but presumably to structure attacks so that the fast things and slow things work in tandem.
Mike White: Right. Yeah, I think that’s a – that’s a common question, is that, well, do you envision everything in the future being hypersonic. And the answer is no. I mean, there’s a family of capability that we want to develop and deliver that complement one another. You know, you want to use hypersonic strike packages when you have highly contested environments, for example. One of the key attributes of hypersonics is it flies very – you can fly very high, and you can be maneuverable in flight.
So you’re very survivable against even the best air defenses. And so if you’re in a highly contested environment, hypersonic systems give you a degree of lethality that other systems don’t give you. You get very long range. So if you need to really reach out and touch somebody, you know, 1,000, 2,000, even 3,000 nautical miles away, you can do that with a hypersonic system. And our current capabilities don’t afford that ability.
And then you want to, you know, deliver lethal effects. So we’re delivering highly effective kinetic energy to the target with our warheads. So you couple the kinetic energy with whatever chemical energy you might have, or with a penetrator, and you can do some things with respect to lethality that you otherwise could not do. So range, speed, therefore time to target, survivability, and lethality are the key attributes that we’re taking advantage of. And hypersonics kind of blends them all together into a single system.
Tom Karako: Great. So broadly speaking, how would you characterize, I guess, the activity that the United States has been doing. You’ve been doing this job for quite a while now. How would you characterize the pace that the United States has come to in the past couple years, both in real terms and relative to our adversaries?
Mike White: Let me start with the first one. You know, we in hypersonics have gone through fits and starts for decades, right? I’ve been doing this for four decades. Kind of a scary thought to even quantify that. But, for four decades I’ve been through a few of them, right? We had programs in the past where – like the National Aerospace Plan – where we really kind of pulled together a national initiative to go build a hypersonic single-stage-to-orbit airplane. But that – every time in the past it’s dissipated, and the decision has always been made to not transition the hypersonic opportunity, capability, to viable warfighting systems.
Our adversaries – our potential adversaries have made that decision. And they have aggressively over the last decade made the decision to move towards hypersonic systems as they field new capabilities. And that’s really dramatically compressing that timescale on the battlefield, as I described to you earlier. So that kind of changes the dynamic. We had the luxury before to not move in this direction. We no longer have that luxury. We cannot allow the asymmetry to stand that involves compression of that battlefield time scale. So we’re moving forward.
I get the question a lot, what’s different this time? How do we know? My industry colleagues are here. They always want to know, well, is it really going to be different this time? And the answer is yes. I think the ’22 budget shows that. I think if you get briefed on the adversary environment, and the things they’re doing, and the realization that – as announced in the press – they have fielded capability today that we don’t have. As you understand that landscape you really understand how real this is. And how important – it’s a national imperative, in my mind, that we move forward and deliver our warfighters this capability.
Tom Karako: Well, on that – on that note, and I’ll just say for the – for the record, your detailed budget docs just dropped about an hour ago. But we did notice that the JHTO, the Joint Hypersonic Transition Office, is in there again, if I’m not mistaken. Congress likes it, but it went into the PB again, this system, so.
Mike White: Yes. And more importantly – or, I’m sorry – probably not more importantly, for my congressional friends. Just as importantly, this time we put it in in the department budget, right? So what dropped is the president’s budget that had JHTO in there. So there was a concerted effort in the bill for this ’22 budget to include the JHTO as part of the department’s budget profile, as part of what we’re calling the accelerated fielding plan. So Congress seeded it for two years very aggressively.
It’s allowed us to really get some momentum and get started in a great direction. A university consortium in applied hypersonics has been established and is about to get kicked off in earnest. We’re working on workforce development initiatives. We’re working capability-based S&T investments. We’re spending about $50 million a year to accelerate our technology that will feed our future capabilities. And so the JHTO is an important part of helping to develop and execute that longer-term look to accelerate transition of new capabilities into our future portfolio. So it’s taken hold and done a great job in getting started.
Tom Karako: Great. And in your opening remarks you mentioned reusables. And I think for folks who think about the strike mission that doesn’t quite register. So but you connected it this time with kind of, like, a space plan, or something like that. So what’s the mission that a reusable hypersonic platform – is it ISR? Is it delivering pop up strike and coming back home? What does that translate to?
Mike White: I mean, there are three primary missions that we focus on for future reusable systems. That is on-demand penetrating ISR. So if you’re in a highly contested environment, you have a(n) on-demand need for rapid ISR and maybe even targeting, you can use a reusable hypersonic system to do penetrating ISR. So think SR-71 on steroids, if you really were looking for an analogy. If you’re there and you get there quick and you can deliver effects, that’s a good thing. So we also think about on-demand penetrating strike capability with a high-speed platform.
I mean, right now when we penetrate a platform into a contested environment, it’s a B-2 or hopefully a B-21 eventually, or a B-1 – their subsonic aircraft. You know, so if you want to fly 500 miles or 800 miles with a bomber to deliver effects, that’s an hour to an hour and a half. You know, if you can do it in five minutes or 10 minutes, that makes a big difference in that integrated kill chain timescale. So think about delivering effects as well as the ISR&T.
And then there’s synergy between a platform that could do those things and what you could deliver relative to rapid access to space. So it could be – serve as a first stage of a two-stage to orbit capability, where you would use the airplane as the first stage and be able to deliver rapidly capabilities into space that you might not otherwise be able to do without that capability. So those are the three mission categories that we’re looking at for defining the mission needs in our technology roadmap for reasonable systems.
Tom Karako: Great. Why don’t we turn to programs and budgets?
Mike White: OK.
Tom Karako: Getting a lot of questions coming in related to those. I thought we would through the service programs and then do defense wide, and then move to hypersonic defense after that. So I thought maybe we’d start with the Army. Their long-range hypersonic weapons, LRHW, is at least going to be one of the first systems delivered. And I wonder if you might talk a little bit about the cooperation between the Army and the Navy on the combat hypersonic glide body that supports those two programs, what your expectation is on the timeline, and then we’ll kind of go from there.
Mike White: OK. I really want to step back one half of a step, if you will, before we get into that. I really want to emphasize the department-wide collaboration in what we’re doing across the services and agencies, as I mentioned before. But what I want to really point out is the FY ’22 budget is an important kind of milestone in what we’re stating as a department, in that the administration and the department has decided to put forward a budget that reflects a decision to accelerate delivery of capability to the warfighter in numbers.
So if you look at how we were funded before the ’22 budget, the ’21 budget, we were accelerating what I call phase two systems. And that is the use of hypersonic capabilities in warfighting system and weapon system constructs, and the maturation of those weapon system concepts. So LRHW, Navy CPS, ARRW, before we stopped it – before the Air Force stopped it – HCSW. Those programs were weapon system prototypes. And we were budgeted to do weapon system prototype development. The ’22 budget now budgets to buy those systems once they’re developed in numbers moving out. So we’re really accelerating the fielding of capability and numbers for the prototype systems that we’ve been maturing over the last several years.
Tom Karako: The ARRW is in procurement.
Mike White: The ARRW line for this new budget for the outyears in particular, but even in ’22, is a procurement line because the line is there to buy weapons, not to do more development. So that’s all we need, is to have our industry partner, Lockheed Martin, deliver the capability and then we’ll buy – we’ll start buying them. (Laughs.) And so we’ve got significant budget – significant budget there to buy the weapons moving forward. So there’s really a significant statement being made at our ’22 budget. And it’s really driving what we call our accelerated fielding strategy.
I’ll point out that we developed that strategy last year. We put it into the president’s budget, in what we call the soft law from the previous administration. When the new administration came in, they reviewed that budget and they endorsed what we had put in there. So we’ve really been very fortunate in having a new administration continue the momentum and step up and champion what we’re trying to do with delivering this war fighting capability. So it really is an important statement that we’ve made in the department and the new administration to move forward. Now it’s in the hands of Congress as we move forward to try to make sure that we can communicate the importance of this. And they’ve been very supportive thus far of what we’re trying to do.
Tom Karako: Well, that’s great news, and to stay there with the department-wide and the joint perspective for a moment, you know, I think it’s commonly said, oh, look at all these – this forest of hypersonic missile programs out there. You know, is this redundant? Is it repetitive? So I wonder if you could speak – and this was kind of the intent of my service-specific question – but speak to the commonality and the cooperation department-wide that may address that – those sort of aspersions of redundancy.
Mike White: Yeah. I think it’s interesting – and I’ve been trying to understand the perspective of those who say, well, there’s too many systems and we’re being redundant. And I think – I think the thing I’ve concluded is that people think of hypersonics as a thing. I’m going to go buy a hypersonics. And that means I’ve got one thing that’s a hypersonic. It really is not a thing. It’s an attribute. It’s a capability. And what we’re developing is a family of weapon systems that are air, land, and sea, surface and subsurface launched, to deliver a wide range of effects to the battlefield to allow defeat of deep inland targets, and not so deep but still inland targets, and maritime targets, and costal targets, and heavily defended targets, and targets on the move.
And so there’s a family of capability that we need to deliver to the battlefield. And we’re looking at multi-mission, multiplatform, multi domain operations to deliver that capability. And that really requires a family and a portfolio of hypersonic weapons. So hypersonics isn’t a thing. And so we shouldn’t talk about, well, since there’s four hypersonic programs then we’re being redundant. That’s not true at all. We’re looking at how do we deliver air-launched cruise missiles to get effects in numbers, in the battlefield, to go after high-end integrated air and missile defense systems. How do we deliver a long-range hypersonic weapon or a Navy CPS capability, to have multi domain options to do deep strike against targets of critical and strategic importance on the battlefield?
So if you look at it in terms of what’s my mission need and what’s my platform deliver option set, and what capability do I want to deliver and what challenge do I want to present to the adversary, there really isn’t redundancy. In fact, there’s probably more things we should be doing, but we need to walk before we run. So I want to try to make sure I focus on that argument. The other thing is that when – if you – if you then step back from that and you look at the types of weapons, there is – there is opportunity to leverage across the weapon portfolio in key technology areas. So if want to develop a seeker for one weapon we ought to be looking at that same seeker technology for the family of weapons. If we’re developing high-temperature materials, thermal protection solutions for one weapon, we want to use that same technology and that same capability to enable another weapon.
In the area of air breathing engines with hypersonic cruise missiles, we’re looking with the Navy and the Air Force as to how do we develop systems that are compatible with Air Force bombers, Air Force fighters, and then systems that can also fit on an F-18 and fit on a carrier. And so we’re looking at potentially different options for hypersonic cruise missiles, but if you decompose the missile into its subsystem elements, there’s opportunity for crosstalk across those domains as well.
So we are really looking to fully integrate – in fact, right before this meeting I was on the phone with the Navy and we were talking about, you know, how do we work with the Air Force on the cruise missile strategy moving forward? So we’re constantly in talks to try to find the optimal leverage points in all the programs, with a key eye towards developing mission capability to serve the battlefield needs across the spectrum.
Tom Karako: Well, first of all, kudos on the hypersonic is an attribute not a thing – it’s an adjective, not a noun. I appreciate that. But I’d be remiss – the cooperation you’re talking about between Air Force and Navy, which cruise missile are you talking about there?
Mike White: So the – right now the ’22 will have funding in it for a program called HACM, that’s a hypersonic cruise missile program. The Air Force is running that program, but the Navy is also working a program called OASuW Increment 2 that’s looking at a high-speed F-18 compatible, carrier compatible option. And we’re working – the Air Force and Navy are working together. I’m working to try to make sure that we’re coordinated and integrated on how we move forward as a nation to develop future cruise missiles.
Tom Karako: Great. Great. So let’s stay on that cooperation thing, come back to the Army and the Navy on long-range hypersonic weapon and CPS. What kind of – what are you seeing? What kind of lessons – I guess, whether it’s Air Force and Navy or Army and Navy, can you describe the cooperation there, and kind of what that means for the procurement and the development other hypersonic things, and maybe defense acquisition more broadly?
Mike White: Yeah. I think that that program is the model, to be quite honest with you. So if you look at Navy CPS, Army LRHW, and prior to that the Conventional Prompt Strike program that was an OSD activity, there really is significant integration between all those activities. You know, General Thurgood, Army RCCTO, Admiral Wolfe Navy SSP, and myself, you know, we’re kind of the brothers in – battle brothers – in getting these programs to be integrated. And I can’t compliment them enough as to how well they’re working together.
The department has an MOU that was signed out in, I think, early 2018 – maybe even 2017. But it really establishes the drumbeat and the roles and responsibilities put between the Army and the Navy and Missile Defense Agency. Actually, the Missile Defense Agency is part of that MOU, as well as OSD already, and OSD A&S. And so there’s a very strong collaboration across the department in that program. And I think there’s another really important collaboration that’s happening that, again, I want to say is kind of the model, in that we developed the common hypersonic glide body actually out of an OSD-led program. Right, a defense-wide account. The Army and Navy were key parts of that, but it was an OSD activity. And the technology really came from Sandia National Laboratories.
And so what we’ve done is we’ve demonstrated that successfully in flight, and then we’ve worked to transition that to Army and Navy weapon system development activities. And at the very early stages, through several really important meetings where we kind of rolled our sleeves up, we decided that not only are we going to have it common all-up round, we’re going to have – a common glide body, we’re going to have common all-up round.
So the Army and Navy got together and said: Hey, MOU says Army produces the glide body and Navy’s responsible for future design of the glide body and weapon system integration. We’re going to work this as a single unit. So the all-up round comes off the line, it goes into a Navy canister on one side, it goes into an Army canister on the other. And each weapons system handles the interfaces necessary to make their weapon system viable in the environments that they’re in. And so the services actually took ownership of the right side of that interface to make sure that the left side could stay common. And it’s worked amazingly well.
And so we transitioned from an OSD glide body development program to an Army-Navy integrated – it’s not a joint program. It’s an integrated program of common interest, is a term that we’ve used, that delivers the all-up round. The other transition I think that’s really important in the collaboration is between the government team, led by Sandia, and industry, right?
So as we go into the actual weapon system development, Lockheed Martin is the owner of the all-up round and integrated weapon concept. Dynetics is going to kind of lead the development of the glide body. And what we’re doing is we’re making sure that the Sandia team, and the knowledge in the Sandia hypersonics team that really drove the development of the glide body is transitioned to industry so that when we get into the weapon system development all the government knowledge is actually is imparted to the industry team and we can accelerate that transition. I think it’s going to be absolutely critical to do that.
So right now, for instance, when we build up a glide body, Sandia is still doing that buildup. But the industry team is there working, you know, side by side with them. Badges come off so that the industry can learn what the Sandia guys know. And then we’ll flip places. You know, the industry team will lead, and Sandia will support. And then we’ll transition over fully later this year, actually.
Tom Karako: Let’s stay with that program for a minute. The budget docs that came out on Friday specified that the Army will procure the common hypersonic glide body. Do you expect procurement for that to stay with the Army, or is the Navy going to procure later on?
Mike White: No, the Army – the Army will maintain – at least as far as we can see right now – the Army maintains procurement. Funding for Navy rounds goes into the Navy budget, and then the Navy buys them through the Army contract.
Tom Karako: Well, good. Good. On that – good that the Army’s involved, I guess, in the long-range hypersonic mission. And on that front, you mentioned – you really emphasized the multidomain aspect of these various missiles that have a hypersonic attribute. And I’ve been struck by the – what I would say the kind of vocal minority that, I don’t know, they talk about multidomain operations and hypersonic strike – I think they seem to forget that land is one of the domains. So I want to – you know, you’ve emphasized the remarkable commonality and cooperation between these programs. And you see folks like General Hyten, the vice chairman, and the outgoing INDOPACOM commander emphasize the need for ground-based fires.
So from where you sit, what is it about the utility of ground-based fires? What are the attributes of ground-based fires that give commanders something that you may not be able to get from sea-based or air-based?
Mike White: Yeah. I think each domain has a set of attributes that have pros and cons, right? And so in the ground-based domain, one of the things you’d like to have is ground-based systems that are there, that you can push the button when you need to push the button. You don’t have to fly a bomber into the –
Tom Karako: So promptness.
Mike White: Promptness is absolutely an attribute. And even when we are talking about how we base future land-based systems, if we’re talking about mobility, we’re talking about prompt mobility. So we want to make sure that that feature of promptness maintains, you know, throughout the portfolio for land-based systems – and, for that matter, for all of our domains. We want to make sure that we’re able to not only fly where we need to fly quickly, but you got to get to the point where you start flying, right, and you have to be able to do your mission planning and all the stuff you need to do to – before you push the button – your targeting, your ISR, and the command and control.
All that has to happen. So we look – we’ve got initiatives in the kill chain to compress the kill chain to make sure we can deliver capability promptly, no matter what it is. But that land component gives you the ability to be there when you need to be there. And then you can move it from place to place. Now, you have to – you know, you have to be able to have basing rights. And so there’s challenges associated with basing rights. And so there’s – on the con side of the ledger – or, the challenge side of the ledger, that presents one of the challenges. But that’s true with air platforms as well. You have to be able to take off from somewhere, unless you’re taking off from the U.S., which is a long flight, right? So there are a lot of things on both sides.
I think the most important thing that I focus on in multidomain operations and conversations, you know, with the Joint Staff of wherever we have those conversations, is the fact that we need – you know, we’re going into a highly contested environment. And that highly contested environment is defined by our adversaries’ very thoughtful development of high-end systems that challenge our domain dominance in space, in the air, on land, and at sea. And we have to make sure that we’ve got enough flexibility to be able to deliver effects from multiple domains, so that we don’t make their problem too easy for them. If I have an effect that’s only going to come from a carrier, and they keep my carriers out because they’ve got DF-21s and DF-26s, or whatever, then, you know, I kind of lose, right? And so I want to be able to, you know, present multiple opportunities to deliver the effects I need to deter and, if necessary, win.
Tom Karako: We’re up against a high-end adversary that needs that constant –
Mike White: That’s why we’re doing this, right.
Tom Karako: A couple other things that come to mind is, you know, dispersal and I would think mass. I mean, there’s only so many things – there’s only so many Virginia payload modules and VLS tubes out there.
Mike White: Yeah. So mass is really important. And I think if you look at why we’re developing hypersonics, it really is to defeat the high-end systems that keep our traditional mass at bay, right? So ideally the hypersonic capabilities are complementary to our traditional force and mass, in that it will – we will enable us – we will enable delivering mass through traditional means with the hypersonic systems. We’re also working at hypersonics in mass, because you have to be able to deliver capability in meaningful numbers, even to defeat the high-end targets.
So that’s kind of where the cruise missiles come into play, right? So the cruise missiles, as I mentioned earlier, are smaller. They’re more affordable because of that smaller size. And they’re more compatible with a wider range of platforms, and they have a higher load-out force, for instance, than bombers. So if you’re looking at boost glide systems you’re pretty much constrained to the bombers for air launch capability. The cruise missiles bring the fighters into the fight. So, you know, we’re developing a 15EX. We’ve got a whole family of F-15 fighters. Our allies have fighters.
And so we really are prioritizing our development and accelerated development of the cruise missile so that we can start to bring hypersonic effects and hypersonic capabilities to the fight en masse. Not only buy them en masse, because they’re more affordable, but also deliver them en masse because we’ve got a wider option set for the platforms, in particular the fighters – fourth and fifth-gen fighters. They bring – they allow us to bring the fourth-gen fighters into the fight on day one, whereas in a highly contested environment that’s not easy to do.
Tom Karako: Let me stay with the platform question there. On the one hand you’ve got – let me just ask first about the Navy and CPS. Has a decision been made about, you know, which platforms are going to host the CPS? I know the Zumwalts. There’s also some surface – or, maybe Virginia-class subs, something like that. Has a decision been made on who’s going to have that?
Mike White: Yeah. The ’22 budget – and, actually, the ’21 budget – congressional mark we took on the ’21 budget caused us to step back and rethink the strategy for the Navy fielding options. And then the ’22 budget really kind of solidified the decision to go to a DDG-1000 as a primary surface launch platform for the – for the Navy CPS. And then we removed the SSGN from our initial fielding strategy, and we continue to focus on the primary future capability, and that’s the Virginia. So starting to field in Virginia in the late 2020s and then throughout the 2030s.
Tom Karako: Now, I mentioned your detailed budget docs just came out. The CSIS crack research team has been going through those.
Mike White: (Laughs.) Do you have your earpiece in to get the latest updates?
Tom Karako: Our budget guru – our budget guru West Rumbaugh just sent me a little bit ago about the TBG, the Tactical Boost Glide. And there’s a little comment in there about how there’s, I guess, exploration of the Tactical Boost Glide for both, I guess, Air Force but also Navy VLS tubes. Thoughts on that?
Mike White: I’m not sure I understood your question fully.
Tom Karako: OK.
Mike White: And so the Tactical Boost Glide System is a DARPA flight demonstration capability that is scheduled to demonstrate a – let’s call it an advanced hypersonic glide body. The primary focus of the weaponization of that glide body has been through the ARRW program with the Air Force. So Air Force and DARPA jointly funded TBG to demonstrate that advanced glide body. In parallel with the glide body demonstration the Air Force leaned forward and made the decision, you know, several years ago to accelerate the weapon system development that would leverage that glide body. So they’ve been doing weapon system development, and that’s been the ARRW program, in parallel with the DARPA program to mature the glide body.
And the idea is for the glide body to be mated with the weapons system – in this case the booster for the all-up round for the tactical system – as well as the weapon system for integration with the airplane. And then demonstrate flight by the end of ’22 and be available for fielding at the end of ’22. And then the ’22 budget starts the process to actually buy those moving forward. TBG is later than originally planned, right? They had a problem on the first flight. They’re scheduled to fly later this year. The ARRW program is pressing ahead. We’ve got confidence that that glide body will work. And so we’ll first fly the TBG program and then quickly thereafter integrate with the ARRW program and demonstrate the weapons system is viable. Number of flights of ARRW throughout the next year, and then field at the end of ’22.
Tom Karako: Now, we mentioned ARRW has some procurement dollars. How’s that program doing? I know there was a little bit of a hiccup in the testing a couple months ago, couple weeks ago. But how would you characterize ARRWs progress?
Mike White: Yeah, I think ARRW’s progressing well. I mean, they’ve got a great team down at Eglin. LCMC is running ARRW as well as HACM. And they’ve got a great team of weapon system developers working ARRW. And it’s – you know, as things progress, as you pull together the weapon system elements necessary to make a no-kidding weapon system, there’s discovery along the way. And so we’ve learned some things.
Probably the biggest challenge we have is the supply chain and making sure that we instill quality into the – and systems engineering rigor into our weapon system buildups, and make sure that the sub-systems that we integrate are ready to go when we integrate them and get those up in the air. So we’re working through some challenges with the COVID environment for the last year, and getting the sub-systems necessary to pull these things together and get moving. But we’re working through them and I’m confident we’ll be successful.
Tom Karako: Great. Now, I guess maybe on that discovery side, I guess the Air Force had I would say a little bit of a programmatic churn, whether it was with, you know, HCSW, HACM. Wonder if you might kind of characterize what’s going on there as they kind of shift gears a little bit.
Mike White: Yeah. I wouldn’t call it churn. I mean, I think the Air Force at the very beginning leaned furthest forward first, OK? (Laughs.) Three Fs. And they made a conscious decision to accelerate the development of future hypersonic systems. And they decided to focus on the boost glide systems. And so they looked at the state of the technology, they felt that was the most mature technology at the time, relative to that or cruise missiles. And they made the decision to move forward and actually start that weapon system – that parallel weapon system development program for fielding a future capability. And at the same time they said, hey, you know, we – there’s still a lot of technological risk in this decision. And that neither of these systems have flown yet.
And so we want to – we want to develop in parallel two options and two opportunities for us to be successful. So they funded both ARRW and HCSW. And they were different systems. You know, ARRW focused on the advanced glide body and had true hypersonic glide. And HCSW was more of a – kind of a ballistic extended glide system. It had more technical maturity, it was less risky, but didn’t have the performance potential of ARRW. And as they – as they matured those two concepts, you know, you always have competing technical maturity as well as competing budget constraints, right?
And as they matured those two concepts, they were pleased enough with the progress of ARRW and the confidence, as we learned more about that design to move forward, that they took HCSW to CDR and stopped it, and then focused on ARRW moving forward. So they made a conscious decision early on to have a risk reduction opportunity in HCSW, and they made the decision to, you know, put that on the shelf while we pursued ARRW. Now, if ARRW fails, we can always pull HCSW off the shelf and use it, because we got it through CDR and we’re ready to go if we need to. But that was a conscious decision that was made. So I wouldn’t really call it churn, from that perspective.
And then HACM really is the cruise missile option, right? So the cruise missiles, scramjet engines are complex. You know, we’ve got the DARPA HAWC program that’s been developing cruise missiles. We’ve funded several other initiatives within OSD for future cruise missiles. A program called HyFly 2, a program called SPEAR to look at the opportunity space for cruise missiles. And we’re maturing those concepts now. And HACM really is the program, no kidding, where we’re going to mature a cruise missile weapons system throughout the FYDP, so we’re ready to start buying cruise missiles at the end of the FYDP and delivering cruise missiles.
So it’s first by – you know, the acceleration plan is really accelerate the production and acquisition of the boost glide systems, as well as accelerating the technical maturity of the cruise missiles and some other options we’re looking at so that we can then be prepared to buy those at the end of the FYDP. So the acceleration plan is multidimensional and has multiple phases that we’re accelerating.
Tom Karako: Well, that’s good to hear, because of course the FYDP wasn’t submitted publicly. (Laughs.)
Tom Karako: So I’ve got a submitted question. And that is – the person asks: What is the purpose of Project Mayhem, which by the way is a pretty cool name for a program, and is it just about scramjets or other things as well?
Mike White: Project Mayhem is to look at the next step in what the opportunity space allows relative to hypersonic cruise missile systems. And so if you look at what we’re doing right now, and the sizes that we’re looking at to deliver capability, you get a certain range and a certain payload to that range, and a certain compatibility with the air platforms that we have today. Project Mayhem says, OK, what happens – what can we do to build a much bigger system to deliver more effects at longer range? And so really, it’s looking at that kind of evolution of capability that you might get to extend out what you can achieve with a highly efficient air breathing platform – weapon platform and take advantage of that efficiency but still extend the range to significant – significantly longer ranges than what we’re doing today.
Tom Karako: So it would still be air breathing, as opposed –
Mike White: Yes. It’s primarily an air breathing focus right now.
Tom Karako: OK, great. Now, on I think it was Friday the Air Force’s slides referenced the cooperative program with Australia called SCIFiRE. And I wonder if you could kind of describe that, the nature of that cooperation with our Australian allies, and where you see that going. Does that suggest maybe Australia’s thinking about getting that capability?
Mike White: Yeah, so SCIFiRE is an OSD-funded program that we’re executing through the Air Force. And it really is to bring the Australians into the fold relative to the development of the cruise missiles. And so we talked about HACM as the FY ’22 now official, at least in the President’s budget official, program for developing the cruise missiles. SCIFiRE is an OSD prototyping initiative that works – where we work with the Australians – equal partnership with the Australians – to kind of create the bridge between the tech demos that we have worked with the DARPA HAWC program, the vehicle demos, create the bridge from that to the full-up weapon system program.
So, you know, think a tech demo of a vehicle concept with the DARPA activities. SCIFiRE is to start accelerating the path forward towards an actual cruise missile weapon configuration. And HACM is to pick that momentum up and accelerate it forward into a viable future weapon.
Tom Karako: Great. Great. So let’s kind of go back to at least defense wide, and DARPA, and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about any other DARPA programs? Again, we know the budget docs aren’t – haven’t looked through them all yet. Any other DARPA or other defense-wide things you’d like to highlight?
Mike White: I think DARPA is doing some interesting things for us with respect to defense. Glide Breaker is an example of some work DARPA’s doing, and some other things they’re doing on the defensive side. And they’re really focusing on bringing home the TBG and the HAWC configurations, and making sure that the weapon system – or, the vehicle demos are successful moving forward. So they’ve been a key player and a key enabler in all that we’re doing.
Space Development Agency’s – you know, they’re – a big part of what they’re trying to do in space is give us the capability to detect hypersonic incoming rounds as part of our defensive architecture. So they’re working very closely with the Missile Defense Agency to develop a space architecture that allows us persistent global coverage for tracking as well as targeting and tracking for ground-based targets for hypersonic strength. So they’re a big player as well on the agency side.
Tom Karako: You know, I think it was last fall Aviation Week, maybe some other folks, reported on plans, at least, or a concept that DARPA wanted to do what they were calling hypersonic production acceleration facility. Basically, the idea being to mass produce hypersonic scramjets. Any update on that, or similar efforts?
Mike White: I don’t know that there’s an update, per se, but, you know, if you look at how we’re structured one of the key challenges that we’re going to have, and we’re having in fact today, is how do we go from the laboratory environment that we all live in from a hypersonics perspective – both on the government side as well as the industry side – to an environment where we have capability and capacity to produce these weapons in numbers?
You know, right now if we’re building a flight article, you know, we’ve got scheduled to build, you know, part of it in Florida, and ship it to Alabama for this machining, and send it over to South Carolina to do this – you know, and do all these kind of things that are not vertically integrated. And it’s not really conducive to a real production in quantity environment. And then we’re working with materials that are not your traditional high-rate, high-volume production materials.
So that DARPA initiative is really looking at how do we vertically integrate and then how do we improve the processes necessary to take the materials necessary to produce these systems and develop them in numbers, in high-rate production, so.
Tom Karako: Great. Great. Now, when you talk about moving things around the country for this facility or that, and what comes to mind is wind tunnels. And it’s great to do, you know, flight testing, but it’s cheaper to do things in a wind tunnel, if you can find one that’s free – that’s open. So could you talk kind of about the quantitative availability of that, but also kind of the qualitative? You know, what are some of the features that we need in wind tunnels to accurately simulate the types of air and heat and so forth?
Mike White: Yeah. Really important question. And that, you know, as we accelerate into our accelerated development and then fielding plan, the demand signal on our T&E infrastructure is huge. And you have to couple that demand signal with other activity in the department, like nuclear modernization and Missile Defense Agency testing, where the conditions that these vehicles are exposed to are similar. And so you have to look at our ground test and flight test capability and capacity, and kind of map that against a demand signal.
Test Resources Management Center is the organization responsible for that for the country. They really own the development plan for our future T&E activity, and ground test and flight test capability and capacity. You’ll see, as you dig into the budget – your earpiece again – you’ll see a significant plus-up relative to TRMC. That was another part of the acceleration plan. That we are already spending on the order of three-quarters of a billion dollars enhancing our ground and flight test infrastructure. And we’ve significantly increased that in the ’22 budget and beyond to make sure we can meet the demand signal for our wind tunnels and our future flight ranges.
So we’re looking at expanding the flight opportunities and, you know, other ranges we might develop for flight. We’re looking at putting together a much more flexible infrastructure for flight testing. So right now we sail a bunch of ships into what we call the String of Pearls. And that takes a long time and it’s problematic and it’s expensive. TRMC’s developing something called Range Hawk, where they’re taking Global Hawks and configuring them to perform the functions of the ships, so they’re much more flexible and more responsive in how they deploy.
They’re making investments in wind tunnel capabilities at AEDC to enhance our ability to do air breathing propulsion testing for hypersonic flight. So as we move to accelerate our cruise missile activity and look at opportunities to rapidly mature the scramjet propulsion systems, they’re making investments at AEDC. Right now we rely on NASA Langley. You know, they’re our partners in using the eight-foot tunnel down at Langley. NASA will continue to be our partner as we look at potentially making investments at Plum Brook, I guess that’s now called Armstrong, to look at additional air breathing capability, to reconstitute the HTF up in Ohio.
So we’re looking across the landscape on the DOD side and NASA side. NASA’s truly a partner in hypersonics. We have a quarterly meeting where we coordinate. We just had one the other day, not only in the area of test facilities but in subject matter expertise. So critical NASA researchers are involved in our DOD programs and, you know, give us advice and lend their expertise to their development activities. And then we’re also in the reusable area. You mentioned reusables.
You know, reusables can be looked at as dual use, you know, point to point travel with hypersonic systems is an area – or, high speed systems, at least – is an area of interest in the commercial world as well as in NASA. So we’ve got an integrated activity on the reusable side with NASA in developing the technology and roadmap moving forward. So wind tunnels are going to be a huge deal and we’re making those investments.
The other area on the wind tunnel side that I didn’t mention the is the arcs. You know, high temperature arcs are really important. Mid-pressure range, high temperature arcs. And TRMC’s making significant investment, and AEDC, to enhance their capacity really for doing arc testing for high-temperature materials.
Tom Karako: Well, right on that subject, got a question here from a Michael Alisky. He appears to be a college sophomore at Stanford, class of 2023, if I’m doing my math right. And he wants to know –
Mike White: Send over your resume. (Laughter.)
Tom Karako: A lot more sophisticated than when I was a college sophomore. But he wants to – he’s asking what’s the role of composite and advanced materials in hypersonic development and what’s the state of industrial base for composite materials?
Mike White: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. The role is huge. The thermal protection system requirements for hypersonic systems is very significant. The materials that we typically use for thermal protection systems are carbon-based matrix composites. And they take a while to fabricate. And they can be finicky. And we can use a lot more work in the area of capability and then producibility relative to delivering those future systems. So materials is a big part of the portfolio necessary for us to be successful.
Tom Karako: Well, on that same topic, the – I wonder if you could speak to the progress of the – I think it’s pronounced MOC3HA Initiative. Manufacturing of Carbon/Carbon Composites for Hypersonic Applications, established by the Defense Manufacturing Space and Technology Office, for exactly these things.
Mike White: So that’s exactly what that MOC3HA’s supposed to be doing. MOC3HA is really to look at the industrial base associated with carbon and make sure that we’re able to do what we need to do to make the investments necessary to make it a – you know, make it conducive to a high volume, high quality production environment.
Tom Karako: Great. Well, of course, you’ve spent a bit of time over the years on the defense side of the house, including at APL. So let me shift there. So big threshold question. You know, in some respects the prospect of defeating or defending against a hypersonic missile kind of sounds like ballistic missile defense, in other respects it kind of looks like complex air defense. It used to be said that the bombers would always get through, then it was the ICBMs that would always get through. Threshold question: Will the hypersonic missiles always get through? Is hypersonic defense a fool’s errand, or is it something worth doing and necessary to do?
Mike White: That’s a very good question. I mean, one of the key attributes of hypersonics that we always talk about is survivability, right? And survivability against high-end threats. And that survivability is derived from a number of attributes in flight. One is the altitude. The fact that we’re flying still within the atmosphere, so we can maneuver at will. And that maneuvering makes it very, very hard to create fire control loop closure on the defensive side. And so – and then there’s the speed, obviously.
So uncertainties in maneuverability or uncertainties in intercept point prediction get magnified dramatically because you’re going so fast. So if I – if I have, you know, two minutes to fly out to do my intercept and I think you’re going to be at point A, but you’re really at point B, in that two minutes, if I’m flying slow, I don’t move very far, right? So point A, I got enough energy to kind of divert and do what I need to do. But if point B is 200 kilometers left or 200 kilometers right, by the time I get there I likely don’t have enough energy in my interceptor to make that kind of a divert.
So we’re looking at what we need to do from the interceptor perspective to make the capability available to do intercept in glide phase. We’re looking at what can we do with sophisticated algorithms to better do that intercept point prediction and do the command and control necessary to optimize the energy necessary to get to an intercept point? And then we’re looking at what do we need to do to close the fire control loop in the end state? So what do I need to do from a seeker and divert – a propulsive divert perspective to close that error out in the end state?
And all those things are challenges. They were challenges for ballistic missile defense. The problem was much easier because if you knew where it was at point A, once the rocket motor burned out you kind of knew it was going to be at point B. So your update rates and everything you needed to do to close the fire control were available to you. But it was – it was a hard problem. But we’ve solved that. One of the main reasons our adversaries have probably gone to hypersonic systems is because we have solved that and we know how to do that.
And so we just need to work at what we’ll be able to do, and how we’ll be able to do it, is still to be determined. And we’ve got – we’ve got a more – we have a comprehensive strategy for defeat of future adversary and current adversary hypersonic systems. And I think it’s going to – that comprehensive strategy’s going to be necessary for hypersonic systems. It’s going to be necessary for ballistic systems. It’ll be necessary for subsonic systems, ultimately too, because it’s driven by numbers, right?
You have to – you have to prevent launch to the extent you can, and then intercept those that are – that are viable launch opportunities when they do occur. And so you have to be able to have the opportunity – and the way we’re working it is in terminal and in glide phase – to do kinetic defeat as part of a comprehensive strategy for defense against hypersonics. And that’s the path we’re on.
Tom Karako: Well, let me – let me dig into that comprehensive strategy for hypersonic defense. Let me go back to the bomber analogy. You know, what was it our British friends, you know, used to contend with the bombers was flak. And so kind of playing with that, you know, I’m thinking about back in the day, whether it was the dust defense for dealing with ICBM RVs in different ways, you know, I think most folks are familiar with the devastating effects of space debris by virtue of the speed that it can do. And then so just thinking about, you know, in that big picture perspective, what are some different ways to come at this problem, other – to channel the threat, to degrade the threat, to impose costs, make it maneuver earlier, things like that? Different kinds of, as it were, DE flak or electromagnetic flak that can complicate the adversaries’ lives?
Mike White: Yeah, there’s a range of options that we’re looking at. I don’t really want to get into the details here, but we are looking, as I mentioned, at kind of what a comprehensive strategy needs to be to present the adversary’s system with enough challenge to where we can, in layers, have confidence of defeating the system when we need to.
Tom Karako: Great. And then in terms of those layers, you know, there’s a boost of some kind, phase, a different kind of midcourse phase, and then the terminal phase. How would you characterize the relative priority of defense in those several phases right now?
Mike White: Yeah. Boost is hard because, you know, you have to be in the right place at the right time. And glide phase is hard because you have to deal with high-speed maneuverability at altitude. And then terminal’s hard because as they come back in the atmosphere they become highly maneuverable systems. We’re taking an inside-out approach. We’re starting with terminal defense and we’re making sure that we take our capabilities that are very, very exquisite capabilities against cruise missiles and ballistic missiles in the terminal and expand that to include hypersonic weapons.
I mean, in the end game, you know, a ballistic missile that might maneuver doesn’t look that different than a hypersonic missile that might maneuver, right? And so you can start to look at commonalities, certain things that might be able to do now or might be working on now, and how do we broaden that application. And then we’re stepping out from there and doing glide phase to – you know, in air defense we always have to do layers because no one layer’s 100 percent effective, right? So we’re looking at glide phase.
One of the things that we are doing, working very closely with the Missile Defense Agency, we have accelerated our glide phase program from what originally was planned in regional glide phase weapon system program, to now the GPI program, as we’ve accelerated the development of a – excuse me – a glide phase interceptor. And so we both accelerate offensive and defensive capabilities, and we’re working at terminal layer and then glide phase layer as our kinetic defense option set.
Tom Karako: Well, if I’m not mistaken, the broad area announcement, the BAA for the GPI program, really emphasized multi-mission capabilities. So that’s kind of right in the wheelhouse. But is that how you would characterize it, the transition from RGPWS to GPI was a – primarily a function of timing?
Mike White: As far as acquisition timing, I would say yes. It really was looking at do we – do we do parallel technology development while we’re doing weapon system development, or do we do sequential technology development and then weapon system development? And we made the decision as a department to parallelize the technology development and weapon system development, so we can field capability earlier. And that’s really what we’re doing across the board, is that we’re accelerating the fielding of initial capability, recognizing that that capability won’t be the end-all to be-all, and that we’re putting together a capability-based S&T strategy and a capability phasing plan strategy that will then look at block upgrades as we move forward, both on the offensive side and the defensive side.
So we’ve moved from the out-years in, relative to what we want to deliver on the glide phase side. And we do that through, one, recognizing that we’re looking at a base architecture that exist. We’re looking at a launch platform constraint that exists. So we know a lot. And we can focus on the technologies that are enabling and do that in parallel with the design to greatly accelerate what we’re going to deliver.
Tom Karako: Great. Great. Now, you did mention earlier – kind of the challenge of command and control for active defense of this, as with anything else. You know, what is it about this mission that is different from the BMD or long-range air defense, things like that? Yes, there’s some physical characteristics of the hypersonic thing and the environment, but how are we going to be thinking about solving that C2 or C3 problem for this mission? Or is something that’s going to grow out naturally from the missile defense system?
Mike White: Yeah. There are, you know, just a few differences, but they’re pretty important, right? So we fly very depressed, right? We’re in the atmosphere. We’re flying between – or, we. Hypersonic systems fly very depressed. We fly between 80 and 150 or 200,000 feet. And so compared to a ballistic system we cross the radar horizon very late, and we’re moving pretty fast. And so the timescale for engagement if you wait to do an organic engagement where you have to cross the radar horizon from the shooting platform before you consummate an engagement becomes very challenging. Ballistic systems fly pretty high and you get them pretty early and then you can predict where they’re going to go. And so you can launch pretty early. And so these systems crossing the radar horizon late just from geometry present a challenge in that compressed engagement time scale.
The maneuverability, as I mentioned before, is the other challenge, in that at any given point in time I don’t know where that weapon – I might know where it is. I don’t know where it’s going to be at any future given point in time. So where – what direction do I launch my interceptor missile in? You know, and therein lies some of the synergy between terminal and glide phase defense. Can I do something in glide phase that makes the terminal problem easier I happen to miss, and various other things that we’re looking at.
So there’s a lot of synergy and integration between a truly integrated layered defense strategy that the Navy’s very good at, right? You know, if you look at Aegis BMD, if you look at Aegis, Navy does integrated layered defense pretty well, with an integrated combat system construct. And so we’re leveraging that in our first instantiation of our hypersonic defense. And so that maneuverability and the fact that we fly depressed compared to ballistic systems, and we cross the radar horizon very late are challenges that we’re trying to address. And to be quite frank, the SDA strategy for proliferated LEO, one of the key drivers is persistent global coverage so that we can provide, track, or at least cueing for future engagements based on the space-based element of the fire control loop.
Tom Karako: So that was my next question, of course, is, you know, what does the ’22 budget do for HBTSS, Hypersonic Ballistic Tracking Sensor System, and then for both the H and the B. What’s the ’22 budget do there?
Mike White: I won’t go into the details because I don’t actually remember all of the details. But, you know, MDA is working very closely with SDA in putting together an integrated architecture. So SDA, as their architecture and their set of requirements are working, HBTSS complements that, or the SDA architecture complements the HBTSS architecture. And so HBTSS is a well-supported program and it’s an important part of what MDA is doing to do that future defense for not only hypersonic systems, but advanced ballistic systems.
Tom Karako: Right. Right. And of course, whether – LEO is great, but there’s a lot of value to having elevated sensors to get over the horizon, even if it’s not orbital. So I wonder if you could talk about the utility of other platforms – high altitude, very high altitude, whether it be fixed wing, lighter than air, stratospheric kind of stuff, to see these things from multiple places.
Mike White: Yeah. I think the important thing is making sure you have an architecture that can leverage it first, right? You have to be able to take a – take a fire control loop and lose that fire control loop based on off-board sensors, and make sure your architecture is robust to that. And that’s one of the attributes, quite frankly, of the Aegis BMD weapon system, is that you can do launch on remote and even engage on remote. So the organic shooting platform never even gets to track prior to engagement. You’re actually engaging on that remote track. And so there’s a whole host of capabilities that you can use to get that over the horizon targeting.
And some of them are airborne capabilities. Some of them are space-based capabilities, and various other opportunities – other ground-based sensors that happen to be in a different place. So if I have a forward ship passing a track to an aft ship that’s the shooting ship. So we’re looking – the architecture is in place to leverage it, and we’re looking – the Missile Defense Agency is looking at how do we best take advantage of the sensors and develop a sensor suite to populate the battle space with persistent global coverage necessary to close the loop?
Tom Karako: Well, we’re coming up on time. You have really covered the waterfront, which was our intent, for strike and defense. Any last words for something you’d like to highlight in the budget we haven’t covered or any other last words about where you see this going?
Mike White: Yeah, I think – I think in closing, you know, I’ll just comment the importance of the national team. You know, this is an activity that we are – I think is a national imperative. We’ve got a considerable requirement to modernize our military and our capability to fight in this highly contested future battlefield, and primarily to deter but, if necessary, fight and win that highly contested future battlefield. And we need to pull together the full complement of national expertise. The government-industry partnership is a key aspect of that. The panel that will follow us will be an industry panel of key leaders in the industry team to talk about industry’s perspective on this.
Pulling industry in and making sure that we’re doing the right things from – bringing the right competencies on board, the right expertise on board. And where the government can complement that, we need to be able to complement that, and work hand-in-glove with industry to solve this problem. It’s not a we-and-them thing. We’re all in this together. So the example I gave you with CPS and pulling together the Sandia team and the industry team moving forward, my history at APL we worked as a technical direction agent in a number of Navy programs and Missile Defense Agency programs, where we worked hand-in-glove with Lockheed and Raytheon in weapon system development.
So the government, FFRDC, UARC infrastructure, and leveraging that to the maximum extent possible, and then industry stepping up and making the investments and dedicating the workforce and the expertise necessary for us to be successful is going to absolutely be essential. This has to be an integrated national team, and all working this together. And we’ve made a commitment, from the perspective of the department, that we need this warfighting capability. We need it enough to be leaning forward significantly in what we’re doing, accepting risk. And we need to all step up and do the thing necessary to maximize the success and the pace of that success.
So systems engineering rigor, assigning the right competencies and the right people to the right problems, making sure that we do the checks and balances necessary to when we fail, we fail for the right reasons, because of discovery in this very hard domain, as opposed to lack of systems engineering, making sure the government is fully engaged in bringing expertise to industry, and industry’s fully engaged in bringing the perspective, and capability, and capacity to the government. That we understand where the investments need to be made across the board to maximize our chance for success. This is too important for us not to bring the best to the game.
So looking forward to the team pulling together. And it’s an honor and really a privilege to be in a role to lead the effort for the nation.
Tom Karako: Well, it’s a privilege to have you here. Thanks for coming out. We’ve covered a lot of scope. And you set up the next panel, so thanks very much. And please come back in about 15 minutes and we’ll have our industry panel to cover anything that Mike might have missed. Appreciate it.
Mike White: Thank you very much.