Opening Statement (As Prepared)

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Thank you, Chairman Lamborn. I also extend a welcome to our distinguished panel of witnesses today.

I am thankful we are holding this hearing on hypersonics, not only to understand our adversaries’ capabilities and intentions when it comes to these weapons, but also to gain a better understanding of how the Department envisions the employment of our own hypersonics in a future conflict.

In the year, almost to the day, since our last hearing on hypersonics we have seen war criminal Vladimir Putin employ hypersonic weapons in his criminal war against Ukraine. The CCP continues to test novel and more advanced hypersonics, and North Korea purports to have them as well. This all started when America pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had effectively limited the development of any new strategic capabilities beyond our existing triad since the 1970s.

Our adversaries have clearly determined that being able to surprise us with extremely fast, highly maneuverable weapons that are hard to detect is critical to defeating U.S. missile defense systems.

From a technological perspective, the Pentagon’s work on hypersonics has seen some positive developments over the past year. The Services are tapping into non-traditional industry to solve challenges like new thermal protection systems, solid rocket motors, and software. I am also encouraged at programs like MACH-TB that are bringing in innovative ways to test components and systems more quickly, getting closer to something we have been pushing the Department to do: to not be afraid to fail, and in fact, to fail faster, learn faster, and pivot quickly from mistakes.

We have also seen great strides in domain awareness. This past year both the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor and Tranche 1 Missile Warning prototype satellites have been placed into orbit – their future operational constellations being critical for our defense and decision-making.

There remain, however, significant, fundamental concerns with the program. One of the top conclusions of the bipartisan Future of Defense Task Force that I co-chaired in 2020 is that it’s not enough for the Pentagon to pursue technology for technology’s sake: we need to develop the operational concepts for how that technology will actually be employed. Indeed, the operational concepts should come first, and then we should develop whatever technology is needed to best address the need.

Over the past few years, I have asked this most basic question of Department officials: how will you use these hypersonic weapons that are costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars to build? Several times I have been met with blank stares. Literally blank stares.

So last year, we directed the Pentagon to tell us with a simple report explaining the concepts of operations and total missiles needed for offensive hypersonic systems. This committee was just told that “more time is needed to collect and integrate inputs from all relevant stakeholders. We anticipate delivering the report by December 31, 2024.”

This fundamental confusion is shocking. Let me be clear: The Department of Defense  cannot clearly explain to Congress and the American people the rationale for developing these weapons for the past 4 years, at the cost of $15 billion, and an additional $3 billion for  the 2025 budget request.

I’m curious if ever before, in the history of the Pentagon, we have spent billions developing a weapon we didn’t know how to use. (How long would it take the Pentagon to answer that question, I wonder?)

Absent any plan from the Pentagon, some Generals and Admirals have tried to answer this most basic question by saying that hypersonics will be a strategic deterrent. Yet there is no plan to arm them strategic warheads.  Do we hope to never use them? Others have implied they will serve as next-generation cruise missiles, harder to counter than our ubiquitous Tomahawks. Such an answer seems to me both simple and believable, and yet apparently this is not true because I can’t imagine it would take five years to provide that answer.

Others have said we need them simply because our adversaries have them. There are plenty of weapons our adversaries are developing that we are not, for good reason. Russia’s recently-leaked space weapon comes to mind. I saw carrier pigeons employed in Iraq not long ago; I assume we are not developing them, too?

Being unable to answer this alarmingly simple question—how we will use hypersonics—may expose an even greater concern: that we are developing a weapon that is seriously de-stabilizing, a weapon that will ultimately make us—and the world—less safe and secure. This would be, notably, in contrast to the rest of our nuclear triad. Sure, I wish we didn’t have to have intercontinental ballistic missiles, but I support investing in them because they provide strategic stability and have been the cornerstone of our strategic stability for decades, as our experience with Russia has proven.

But if a nation—us or them—cannot tell whether an inbound hypersonic missile is a strategic nuclear weapon or not, or simply where it is aimed, that nation could feel compelled to launch a nuclear response and nuclear holocaust could be the result. Obviously, we need answers.

The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do. I hope that today’s hearing will, for the first time, help answer some of these fundamental questions and gain better insight into whether developing hypersonic weapons will make us safer, or whether they will prove to be an epic multi-billion dollar mistake that hopefully doesn’t inadvertently spark a nuclear holocaust.