Army to showcase path for fast-tracking hypersonics, directed energy

In just two years, a Stryker platoon will be equipped with the Army’s first combat capable laser weapons. The following year, a battery will add the Army’s new land-based hypersonic weapon to its arsenal.

Both capabilities are experimental prototypes, yet immensely important to outpacing and defeating near-peer adversaries.

By accelerating leap-ahead technology into the hands of operational units, the Army will deliver an array of powerful options for commanders and lay the groundwork for enduring programs of record.

The Army’s path for fast-tracking hypersonics, directed energy and other critical capabilities is being led by the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office. The RCCTO will be the focus of a Warriors Corner presentation on Oct. 14 from 1:25-2:05 p.m. as part of the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Taking its direction from a Board of Directors made up of Army leadership, the RCCTO is chartered to spearhead rapid prototyping efforts and deliver residual combat capability to operational units. To do this, the RCCTO is leveraging investment by the science and technology community and transitioning emerging technology from the lab to the Soldier. Specifically, the RCCTO is charged with delivering the prototype Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) to a battery no later than fiscal year 2023 and delivering a 50 kilowatt (kW)-class high energy laser (HEL) to a platoon of Stryker vehicles no later than fiscal year 2022.

The LRHW will introduce a new class of ultrafast, maneuverable, long-range missiles that will launch from mobile ground platforms. The prototype will include hypersonic missiles with a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB), existing trucks and modified trailers with new launchers, and an existing Army command and control system. The RCCTO issued contract awards on Aug. 29 to build and integrate components of the LRHW.

The Army is closely linked with joint service partners to execute hypersonics development and testing. For example, the Army will execute production of the CHGB for all services, while the Navy will lead the glide body design.

In another critical prototyping effort, the RCCTO is also accelerating the fielding of a 50kW-class high energy laser. This prototype HEL weapon at the platoon level is part of the Army’s Maneuver Short Range Air Defense mission, and intended to protect units from unmanned aerial systems, rotary-wing aircraft, and rockets, artillery and mortar.

High energy lasers engage at the speed of light and provide a solution to a constantly evolving threat, while reducing the logistics trail associated with conventional kinetic weapon systems. In July, the RCCTO announced its contract award for the directed energy (DE) M-SHORAD effort and after a technology maturation phase, the Army will execute a HEL demonstration against a number of M-SHORAD threats. The Army plans to deliver a total of four prototype vehicles to an operational M-SHORAD platoon.

The RCCTO will also deliver an experimental prototype High Power Microwave (HPM) no later than fiscal year 2024. HPM weapons can disrupt communications to, for example, to throw off a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles.

For these efforts and more, the RCCTO is executing a new path for delivering new weapons from laboratories to a combat unit. Not meant to be perfect solutions, the prototypes are delivered to Soldiers so they can train with them, fight with them, and provide feedback on improvements.

As the RCCTO continues development of hypersonics and directed energy prototypes, it is also executing previously assigned projects and scouting emerging technologies for new rapid prototyping projects through its Computing and Electronics Security Dominance Project Office, Advanced Concepts and Experimentation Project Office, and Rapid Acquisition Project Office.

Together these additional project offices give the RCCTO the ability to work with industry, academia and laboratories to find the most promising new technology, rapidly prototype it and move it into a unit of action.

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