New photographs shed some light on the United States Army’s hypersonic missile program and show what will become the missile’s launcher.
Here Come the Hypersonic Missile…Launchers
A recently related cache of photographs (see a sample below) shows what the U.S. Army’s future hypersonic missile launcher will look like. The photos showed a large prime mover-type vehicle and towed trailer launchers that would hold two missiles each.
The caption accompanying the photographs offered more details about the prototyping effort, explaining that “the Army is prototyping the land-based, ground-launched Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) that will provide residual combat capability to Soldiers by Fiscal Year 2023.”
“This prototype, being built under the direction of Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), fields components of the LRHW to enable Soldiers to fully train with the system and build tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).”
Long Range Hypersonic Weapon
The program, known as the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, also known as Dark Eagle, is a jointly developed Army-Navy initiative. The weapon consists of a large rocket, and, housed in its nose cone, a glide body-type weapon.
When the Dark Eagle reaches the correct altitude and speed, it releases its glide body, which then glides unpowered toward a target. Gliding is somewhat of a misnomer, however, as the glide body travels at supersonic speeds, in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
The Army successfully tested the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon most recently in March of last year, during a testing event that the Army said was “successfully executed.” A brief video recording of the event can be seen below.
The missile’s range will reportedly be about 2,775 kilometers or about 1,725 miles. At these ranges, missiles stationed with American forces in Okinawa, mainland Japan, or South Korea would threaten targets deep within China, even Beijing itself.
While the U.S. Army’s land-based missiles are expected to enter service as soon as 2023, the Navy’s ship- and submarine-launched version of the LRHW are expected to enter service later, in 2025 or possibly even somewhat later.
Though the Long Range Hypersonic Missile program is of particular importance for both the Army and the Navy, the missiles could play a more significant role with the Navy, as part of the sailing branch’s efforts to bolster capabilities in the Pacific to deter China.
The release highlighted the importance of the Dark Eagle program, stating that “hypersonics is part of the Army’s number one modernization priority of Long-Range Precision Fires, and is one of the highest priority modernization areas the Department of Defense is pursuing to ensure continued battlefield dominance.” Soon it seems, the United States Army and Navy will catch up to their Russian and Chinese counterparts.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer based in Europe. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.