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December 12, 2019 | International, Aerospace

RFP Reveals Main Thrust Of U.S. Counter-Hypersonic Plan

Steve Trimble

The main thrust of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's counter-hypersonic strategy has just been revealed.

The Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS) prototype project demonstrates an interception capability against a medium- or intermediate-range threat.

The MDA revealed the existence of the program in a request for prototype proposals released to industry on Dec. 5. An industry day for the RGPWS prototype project is scheduled on Dec. 18 at an MDA facility on Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

The RGPWS shows the MDA is moving faster to field at least a prototype counter-hypersonic capability than previous efforts suggested.

The MDA had previously defined a concept for a Hypersonic Defense Weapon System (HDWS). The agency selected 21 proposals from industry in September 2018 for concept definition studies. MDA then down selected to five concepts in late August and early September 2019 for a nine-month-long concept refinement phase. The selected proposals included four kinetic concepts based on existing boosters and one Raytheon-directed energy system.

The RGPWS is a parallel effort by MDA to the HDWS. The companies selected for the HDWS concept refinement phase could submit separate proposals for RGPWS. But other companies that were rejected after the concept definition phase or did not participate in HDWS can participate in the RGPWS, says Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who was briefed on the program on Dec. 9.

For example, Northrop Grumman's proposal was not down selected for the HDWS concept refinement phase, but it intends to compete for the RGPWS prototype project.

“Northrop Grumman is engaged with MDA on Hypersonic Defense Regional Glide Phase Weapon System and will attend the upcoming industry day,” a spokesman says.

Northrop has been developing kinetic and non-kinetic options for missile defense, including one concept in the latter category called the Terminal and Regional Electronic Attack Defense System.

The acknowledgment of the RGPWS offers a limited glimpse into MDA's development strategy for the burgeoning counter-hypersonic capability. In July 2017, the agency first disclosed plans for funding a hypersonic defense demonstration. An item in the Selected Acquisition Reports for the Ballistic Missile Defense System added $508 million to the program's overall budget to pay for such a demonstration. In March 2019, the agency disclosed it would spend more than $600 million on hypersonic defense capabilities by the end of fiscal 2024.

By emphasizing a “glide phase” weapon with a “regional” targeting area, the MDA also provided clues about the intent of the demonstration. It does not appear to be targeting an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear hypersonic glide vehicle as the warhead, such as Russia's Avangard. It is more likely designed to target a hypersonic glide vehicle with regional range, Karako says. Options may include hypersonic glide vehicles on China's DF-17 and DF-21 missiles.

“That's a good thing,” Karako says. “It's a smart move for MDA to start there.”

Separately, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency continues to pursue the Glide Breaker program. It was revealed in July 2018 as a program with a particular interest in “component technologies that radically reduce risk for development and integration of an operational hard-kill system,” according to a DARPA solicitation document. But no further details about Glide Breaker have been released.

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    With 9,500 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles already delivered, the Army was running out of room on its existing contracts, so it just ordered another 2,738 from Oshkosh. That'll keep production going through a re-competition scheduled for 2022. By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR.on December 02, 2020 at 4:49 PM WASHINGTON: The Army's already shared Oshkosh's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle design with rival companies, who hope to take over the program when a new competition is held in 2022. But, having announced a new $911 million order just yesterday, Oshkosh Defense is confident that it'll fend off all challengers and keep building JLTVs for years to come, general manager George Mansfield told me this morning. “This contract really shows how the Joint Program Office feels about Oshkosh,” Mansfield said. “They're very confident we build a good quality product, [and] we are on time and under budget so far.” In fact, Mansfield said, Oshkosh JLTVs were coming in so much under budget that the military was able to buy more vehicles in less time than the original contract anticipated. (And it did so despite cuts to the JLTV budget in recent years). That's why the Army — which runs JLTV on behalf of all the US armed services and seven foreign customers from Belgium to Brazil — had to issue the new contract this fall. You see, in 2015, when Oshkosh beat aerospace titan Lockheed Martin and Humvee manufacturer AM General, the Army issued a production contract with a maximum value of $6.7 billion and a maximum quantity of 16,901 vehicles. That contract was supposed to last eight years, through 2022. Before it ran out, the Army would hold a new competition, open to all comers, with the winner – perhaps Oshkosh, perhaps a rival – getting a new contract to build JLTVs after 2022. But Oshkosh kept selling JLTVs more cheaply than the 2015 contract had assumed. That meant the military could buy more vehicles more quickly, even with a reduced budget for JLTV. That meant, in turn, that it ran up against the 2015 contract's 16,901-vehicle maximum this fall, two years ahead of schedule. So, to keep production going, the Army issued the new contract: an additional $911 million for 2,738 more JLTVs, plus 1,001 trailers and other kit. That brings the total on order to 18,073 JLTVs, of which over half – about 9,500 – have already been delivered. What does a JLTV cost? That's tricky. Oshkosh doesn't divulge exact prices. The government's estimated Average Procurement Unit Cost per JLTV is $395,000 (once adjusted for inflation; it's $365,000 in 2015 dollars). If you just divide the dollar value of the new contract by the number of vehicles, the average cost per JLTV has fallen below $333,000. But the actual price per JLTV is actually a lot lower than that, because these contracts always include trailers, specialized mission equipment for different JLTV variants, spare parts and support. The new contract allows the Army to order additional JLTVs through November 2023. That keeps production going through the re-competition, which is scheduled to award a contract in the second half of 2022. Now, the re-compete is not about picking a new design. Instead, it's about giving the Army the option to pick a new manufacturer for the existing design. Under the terms of the original 2015 contract, the government bought the Technical Data Package that shows you how to build a JLTV and can give that data to any company it likes. In fact, several potential competitors have not only gotten the data package, they've actually leased JLTVs so they can reverse-engineer them. But while competitors now have the JLTV design, they don't have Oshkosh's facilities, workforce or their years of experience actually building it. “We've been manufacturing this vehicle for five years,” Mansfield told me. “We know how it's designed because we designed it, we know how to manufacture it, we've got a strong supply base. So I think we're in a very good position.”

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