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Increasing Production Is Important for Hypersonics, Defense Official Says

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 08, 2022) -- The Defense Department is working hard on developing both hypersonic offensive and defensive capabilities. But in the immediate future, one of the most important areas to be developed is increasing the capacity at which such systems can be produced, said Gillian Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office.

"I would say that everything we're doing in terms of the interceptors, the strike weapons isn't going to make a difference unless we have sufficient quantities," Bussey said during a discussion today with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Having a dozen hypersonic missiles -- regardless of whether they're really hypersonic or not -- isn't going to scare anyone."

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The biggest technological and industrial capability the department can invest in right now, she said, is to increase production rates, particularly for thermal protection systems for glide vehicles and additive manufacturing for cruise missile engines.

"I think those are the long poles in the tent when it comes to production," she said. "Those are the things that take the longest. If we can reduce the production time and increase the capacity and you know double, triple, quadruple those production numbers, I think that's how we'll really make a difference."

Investing there, she said, needs to start now in order for capacity to be there when the department is ready with a program of record.

Bussey also said that defending against hypersonics is an expensive and complicated endeavor, while it remains less expensive to develop and launch a hypersonic offense. That's why, even though the department is focused on both offensive and defensive capabilities, it's prioritizing offensive systems.

"Essentially, this means it's a lot easier to attack than it is to defend against such an attack," she said "Despite the obvious threat, as a department, we've chosen to focus on offense first because a good offense is the best defense, and offense is a lot easier."

At the same time, she said, research into both defensive and offensive systems yields valuable knowledge that can be used for both.

"What has the maneuverability, altitude, reach and speed to hit a hypersonic missile? A hypersonic missile," she said.

While technology for defensive and offensive systems are different, including seekers, guidance and booster technology, the fundamental design of an offensive or defensive kill interceptor vehicle can be the same, Bussey said.

"We've seen a number of proposals using what could be an offensive strike weapon used as an interceptor and vice versa," she said.

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