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Lack of funds causes USAF to skip hypersonic cruise missile competition

The US Air Force skipped a more extensive competition for its nearly $1 billion hypersonic cruise missile development contract due to lack of available funds to pay multiple sources to develop alternative prototypes, according to a newly-released government document.

The move is a departure from normal Department of Defense policy on most advanced weapons development programmes.

Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems won the indefinite-delivery and indefinite quantity award worth up to $928 million to develop a hypersonic cruise missile in April 2018.

The USAF anticipates requesting only a limited number of air-launched hypersonic missiles from Lockheed and plans no further competitions to produce alternative versions of the weapon from other manufacturers, according to a justification and approval for other than full competition document posted online 4 June 2018. The service said it did not have the funding necessary to pay for a competition of multiple sources through the engineering and manufacturing development phase.

The USAF is planning to encourage competition among possible component suppliers for the hypersonic conventional strike weapon through the use of standard interfaces, however.

The USAF is accelerating its efforts to develop hypersonic weapons and aircraft in light of advances and investments made in hypersonic technology by China and Russia. The difficulty in defending against hypersonic weapons has pushed the Pentagon into an arms race. Developing hypersonic weapons is the “highest technical priority” for the US military, said Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, in March 2018.

The justification and approval document was produced in October 2017 before the USAF awarded Lockheed Martin Space the hypersonic missile. The document, a redacted version which was later made public, provided reasoning for the government’s plan to grant a single company the only contract for designing, developing and integrating an air launched hypersonic missile.

Lockheed Martin Space is contracted to provide programmatic, engineering and systems engineering work leading to a successful critical design review within 24 months after the award. The firm is to provide engineering and manufacturing development work to support Early Operational Capability by 2022.

The USAF received statements of capability from 12 companies after soliciting interest in developing a hypersonic missile in June 2017. The hypersonic conventional strike weapon programme office deemed only five of the potential bidders to be viable vendors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Missile Systems and Orbital ATK.

Ultimately, only four of the five viable vendors submitted bids, of which Lockheed Martin Space was chosen as the award winner.

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