DAHLGREN, Va. –
Traveling from Los Angeles to New York by passenger jet takes just over five hours. Hypersonic flight at Mach 20 fewer than 10 minutes. High-speed feats such as this are not theoretical proposals. Indeed, NASA and the space programs of other countries attain those velocities with every spacecraft that achieves earth orbit. However, Russia is developing new missiles capable of 6,000 mph or greater, and China in 2019 claimed to have operational hypersonic glide vehicles with similar capabilities.
In 2020 the Department of Defense (DoD) ranked hypersonic weapons and counter-hypersonic capabilities among its top technology modernization priorities, and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), is on an accelerated path to develop offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies for use by the warfighter.
Dahlgren is no stranger to hypersonic technologies and has a long record of excellence supporting similar projects which “directly apply to the development of the Navy’s hypersonic weapons,” in the assessment of Craig Phillips, an NSWCDD aerosciences engineer that worked these programs. In a post-World War II project inspired by captured German technologies, Dahlgren conducted a historical survey and feasibility study of hypervelocity guns to defend against future supersonic bombers and guided missiles. They explored concepts that included sabot and rocket-assisted projectiles as well as electromagnetic guns. In 1950, Dahlgren developed the first six-degrees-of-freedom trajectory simulation, a breakthrough that enabled the successful development and deployment of guided ballistic missiles. Early efforts included performing trajectory and guidance analyses of the hypersonic Jupiter missile for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 1954-55.
Over subsequent decades, Dahlgren has developed the computer programs used to target, prepare, and launch the Navy’s submarine-launched, hypersonic ballistic missiles. In addition, Dahlgren developed the Polaris presetting process and solved guidance problems for Poseidon missile. In the early 1970s, Dahlgren engineered an 8-inch-gun launched ramjet that could achieve a near-hypersonic, Mach 4 velocity. In recent years, Dahlgren has modeled, designed, prototyped, and flown the Navy’s hypervelocity projectile, which is a guided round capable of hypersonic velocities when launched from high-speed guns. In the 1990s, Dahlgren contributed expertise with materials, design, and systems engineering to support an accurate demonstration flight of the Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile (LEAP). In addition, subsequent research connected to the AEGIS LEAP Intercept and Navy Theater Wide Ballistic Missile Defense programs solved problems related to the transition of control, successful staging at high speed under a range of dynamic pressures and aerothermal loads, and guidance and control of the Navy’s first exoatmospheric missile stage with thrust vector and altitude control.
Since 2016, NSWCDD has conducted integrated air and missile defense analyses focused on hypersonic missiles. The analysis has ranged from single ship middle-term studies to force-level far-term analyses that identify capability gaps and possible solutions available through science and technology efforts. Recently, Dahlgren’s efforts have expanded to include key roles in the development of offensive and defensive hypersonic missile systems.
The NSWCDD Strategic Plan for 2021-2025 thrusts hypersonic weapons advancement into the forefront with a goal to establish Dahlgren as the Surface Navy Lead for offensive and defensive hypersonic weapon systems integration. The United States faces fierce competition with its adversaries to develop offensive hypersonic weapons and the countermeasures to defeat them.
The hypersonic technology thrust will foster and develop a sustained hypersonic technology workforce. “We come to work each day seeking ways to put new capabilities into the hands of our warfighters,” said Adam Jones, head of the NSWCDD advanced hypersonics and guided munitions division. “Offensive and defensive hypersonic weapons will give our Navy the edge it needs to maintain naval superiority against our adversaries.”
Dahlgren’s hypersonic activities have brought staff into collaboration with other DoD agencies, industry leaders, and academic experts through the Naval Surface Technology and Innovation Consortium and the Navy Engineering Education Consortium. “NSWCDD has over six decades of expertise in developing, testing, and evaluating advanced materials for systems that operate in extreme thermal and ablative environments, as is the case with hypersonic and reentry vehicles—it is in our DNA,” said Dr. Pearl Rayms-Keller, chief scientist of the NSWCDD strategic and computing systems department. “Leveraging the expertise of our private sector collaborators to maximize our competencies and capabilities and to extend our investment funds is a must.” Rayms-Keller added that “we are placing collaborative and research agreements with key partners such as the Johns Hopkins University Extreme Materials Institute and the 3D Printing Systems and Atomization Johnson & Johnson Center at the University of Miami.”
Recent internal investments at Dahlgren have totaled over $4 million across 22 Naval Innovative Science Engineering (NISE) hypersonic projects.
“These investments have allowed us to advance the Navy’s hypersonic capabilities, accelerate transition to the fleet, and train our workforce to maintain the cutting edge of technological advancement in this critical area,” said NSWCDD Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift. These NISE projects include development of advanced materials enabling hypersonic flight, modeling and simulation in aerosciences, engagement analysis to close the fire control loop, advancements in hypersonic testing and evaluation and weapon control, and threat analysis. Steve Malyevac, the Navy’s Distinguished Scientist for Surface Engagement, noted, “Dahlgren has begun engagement modeling and mission-level modeling of the trajectories of hypersonic vehicles using system-level tools to ensure the warfighting utility of these new weapons.”
Dahlgren is applying its deep knowledge of advanced gun systems, guided projectiles, and telemetry to support hypersonic research and development. For example, scientists and engineers are developing advanced guidance and control for future hypersonic systems. NSWCDD recently conducted the first of several planned tests by launching a conical projectile, dubbed Hypercone, to collect aerodynamic and aerothermal data relevant to hypersonic flight conditions. Dahlgren also has multiple efforts focused on accurately modeling the flow around a hypersonic vehicle. Recently, Dahlgren’s hypersonic efforts have expanded to include roles in the development of offensive missile boost-glide weapons and other collaborative efforts across the DoD.
Dahlgren brings specialized modeling, simulation, and ground testing capabilities to assess the lethality and effectiveness of weapon systems used in hypersonic engagements. Moreover, the sheer size of the hypersonic defensive design solution space has led to an integrated system-of-systems-level modeling and simulation toolbox that enables the rapid exploration of the design space and reduces the area requiring intensive, detailed analysis. “The toolbox allows a high-level assessment of the design space of an interceptor far more quickly than the industrial norm,” said Dahlgren engineer Blake Van Winkle.
These initiatives support DoD’s goal of providing the nation with hypersonic solutions that are reliable, effective, and extensible to a range of existing weapon platforms. “We are fielding a family of air-, land-, and sea-launched, conventionally armed, hypersonic strike weapons,” the Pentagon’s Principal Director for Hypersonics Michael E. White said in a recent DoD News report. “These weapons will be designed for defeat of maritime coastal and inland targets of critical importance on a timescale of relevance for the tactical battlefield.”
“Dahlgren has an established history of hypersonic work,” said Mike Libeau, NSWCDD Hypersonic Technology Chief Engineer. “We are working the challenges of hypersonic flight and weapon systems integration, and we will lead the development and fielding of naval defensive and offensive hypersonic systems to keep our Navy the best in the world.”
Inquiries about the hypersonic efforts at NSWCDD may be directed to Dahlgren_Hypersonics@navy.mil.