Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is hoping to field offensive hypersonic weapons by the early- to mid-2020s, the Pentagon said this week.
The Department of Defense also plans to develop a layered system for defense against hypersonic weapons by the mid-to-late-2020s and develop reusable hypersonic systems by the early- to mid-2030s, according to Mike White, principal director for hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
Russia and China have aggressively pursued hypersonic systems in recent years, which White said underscores the importance of developing and deploying hypersonic weapon systems.
"Historically, the United States has been a world leader in hypersonics research and development but we have consistently made the decision not to transition to warfighting capability and warfighting systems in hypersonics," White said, speaking during the DoD's Engineers Week event.
Hypersonic weapons can travel at altitudes between 80,000 and 200,000 feet, at velocities faster than about five times the speed of sound.
The fact that hypersonics can travel in the upper reaches of the atmosphere allows for maneuverability in unpredictable situations.
But the high altitude also presents some challenges, including extremely high temperatures and, in some cases, the need for advanced propulsion systems.
White said the DoD needs improved capability and capacity for testing and evaluation of hypersonics, both for ground and flight testing -- as well as increased workforce capacity.
"We will need additional engineers and technicians to build up the capacity to build hundreds and even thousands of these weapons," White said.
According to White, Russia and China's aggressive pursuit of hypersonic technologies will compound the challenge created by other high-end systems they are fielding for combat in air, on land, at sea and in space.
In November, the Pentagon established a Joint Hypersonics Transition Office Systems Engineering Field Activity at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind.