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Mark Lewis Urges DoD to be Less Risk-Averse in Developing Hypersonics

Mark Lewis


Department of Defense

Mark Lewis Urges DoD to be Less Risk-Averse in Developing Hypersonics

Mark Lewis, director of defense research and engineering for modernization, believes that the Department of Defense needs to adopt a less risk-averse mindset to successfully develop hypersonic weapons that would offer warfighters mission-critical advantages in the battlefield.

In an interview with the Hudson Institute in Washington, Lewis asserted that the department has to be willing to take more risks in testing and development more so than it does now and not be afraid of the possibility of “noble failures.”

According to Lewis, changing the department’s approach to hypersonics development would provide warfighters with hypersonic systems that would be most useful “at scale” by the mid-2020s, the DoD reported Tuesday.

In terms of hypersonics development, Lewis considers speed to be of paramount importance. He envisions that a hypersonic weapon traveling at Mach 5, equivalent to speeds exceeding 3.8K miles per hour, will give adversaries a hard time to launch a response. In addition to speed, Lewis noted that whoever masters maneuverability and trajectories of hypersonic weapons will gain the upper hand in combat.

To further drive his point, Lewis compared the department’s approach to the Air Force's X-51 program just 10 years ago with the X-15 program during the 1960s.

Lewis attributed the slow progress of the X-51 program to a fear of failure. He recalled “surrealistic conversations” during the X-51’s development where officials held back on flying the vehicle because of so much worry about the consequences of failing. Throughout the process, the program suffered from year-long gaps in between its four test flights and a loss of expertise with the departure of the original pilot and the ground crew associated with the first test flight.

In comparison, the X-15 program flew 199 flights once every two weeks and program officials immediately addressed problems to resume flight tests, Lewis said. The X-15 program also continued on despite the loss of an entire aircraft and a pilot.

Moving forward, Lewis expects the DoD to conduct as many as 40 different flight tests of hypersonic systems. To ensure success, Lewis stressed the importance of flying early and frequently.

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