A flight test of the joint Army-Navy hypersonic glide vehicle across the Pacific was a success thanks to a dedicated team who managed complexity and change, officials said. A joint team of soldiers, sailors, Defense Department civilians, contractors, national labs, and industry partners spent months preparing for the launch at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
Flight tests like this one are highly complex endeavors. Personnel begin traveling to the site weeks in advance of the mission to get everything in place, from assembling the missile, to putting monitoring equipment in place, to running safety drills and developing detailed countdown procedures. A large number of the support personnel in Kauai had worked on hypersonic technologies for years and applied their previous flight test experiences to this event.
There were some differences this time, though, to usual flight test operations as some travel restrictions were put in place in the final days leading up to the test in response to COVID-19, according to Joel Shady, flight test director. Some of the tasks had to be accomplished through video teleconferences and phone calls, Shady said.
Shady, who works for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, had spent about 40 days on Kauai preparing for the flight test. As flight director, his job was to “choreograph” the entire operation, overseeing everything from environmental compliance to safety and launch procedures. The common hypersonic glide body will be common between both Navy and Army, so the two services continue to work closely together every step of the way. Navy is lead for the design of the CHGB, and Army is lead for production.
About 60 percent of the military members at the Kauai test facility were Navy, Shady said. In addition, naval vessels were deployed across the Pacific to observe the trajectory of the hypersonic glide vehicle, said Navy Capt. John Lowery, program manager, Conventional Prompt Strike, U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs. Dr. Sidney Beck, chief engineer, Naval Ordnance Test Unit, was the overall mission director in charge of the test, and was at Kauai, overseeing the assembly, integration, testing and countdown of the missile that carried the payload downrange.
The hypersonic glide body in last week’s test was produced at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in collaboration with government researchers. It will be upgraded for the next hypersonic test. A new booster, currently being developed by the Navy, will be demonstrated within future tests as well. The common hypersonic glide body is actually government-owned technology produced over the years. The hypersonic glide body for later tests and fielded prototypes, however, will be built by Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama, Thurgood said. Dynetics was awarded a competitive contract to become the first industry producer of the hypersonic glide vehicle. The Army plans to field a long-range hypersonic battery in 2023. The unit will use M983 prime-mover trucks and revamped M870 trailers to haul the hypersonic glide vehicles from one launch site to another.