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Tue, Apr 02, 2024

Northrop Grumman Promises It's the Right One for the Job

With Hypersonics in Mind, the Teacher's Pet Raises its Hand

Northrop Grumman published a little bit of cheerleading on its corporate site, promising that it can retain a technological edge against advancing laggards-turned-peers in the ever advancing race of tech supremacy.

Reading between the lines a bit, it seems like a promise to stakeholders, investors, and taxpayers that we all just need to throw some more money into the development furnace in order to make up for years of underinvestment in hypersonic missiles. While few are eager to admit so aloud, it's been an embarrassment to watch Russian and Chinese hypersonics perform on the battlefield, and no matter how many articles the civilian-facing propaganda apparatus can pump out to prove how "easily intercepted" they are by our legacy missile defense systems, the fact remains: The other guys have them, and we don't. Whether they're effective, next-gen battlefield-definers or overhyped garbage, hypersonic munitions are a prestige item on the world stage today, particularly now that social media has grown to become a battlefront all its own. Since 2022, the US has started to dig the stirrups into the industry a bit more, and there's at least some headway on having some workable missiles, but nothing is anywhere close to production. As such, it's not too surprising that Northrop Grumman would give an IOU on their blog feed of corporate news: "The Low-Risk Path for Never-Fail Missions", recalling the long road of rocketry already trodden while promising the best is yet to come. 

After a brief history lesson on how it provided "flight-proven propulsion for over six decades", Northrop gets down to brass tacks, citing John Hill, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense. He testified before Congress, saying "missiles have become foundational to our adversaries' way of war, and missile defense has become foundational to integrated deterrence and defense of the nation." Backing him up, they go on to quote Wendy Williams, Northrop's VP and general manager, adding her promise that "Modernizing rocket propellant and motor production is not just a matter of making technological upgrades and increasing production capacity - it is an urgent national security imperative."

With the hook set, Northrop Grumman moves on to the ask phase in the sales process. They know that propulsion tech needs to advance just a little more in order to make our efforts at workable hypersonic munitions more than extremely expensive, boutique prototypes. They cite the need for better Solid Rocket Motor technology in the industry, tech that is at its core a national security issue.

"In the coming years, SRM technology will need to be deployed on an unprecedented scope and scale," they say as subtly as possible. "Deployment" is, as the beltway folk know, a code for "money please", and kickstarting our rocket motor programs to build out an entirely new arsenal of clean-sheet munitions isn't going to be a cheap endeavor. 

"As a company building some of the world's largest and most advanced solid rocket motors, Northrop Grumman has a resilient and diversified supply chain supported with cutting-edge additive manufacturing techniques," they continue. Funnier still, Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, even says with unusual level-headedness, that "Lead times will need to get shorter, and cost-effectiveness will be paramount". It's interesting to hear their PR department promise such budgetary restraint, when their ICBM program, the Sentinel, has ballooned from its original costs by almost 40%. If they're that good with money when dealing with the modernization of an existing, well-trodden missile program, it's not hard to imagine how much they'll go over when designing clean-sheet, cutting edge ones from scratch. (For what it's worth, it's not entirely Northrop's fault on that mark - The Air Force has always had a very old-fashioned eye for telling contractors "nah, that will work fine, just use the old one" even when the older equipment is very clearly not fit for purpose. In the Sentinel's case, they failed to account for a few thousand miles of cable throughout the deployment network that would need to be replaced in order to fully digitize and advance the system.)

In closing, Northrop Grumman says that "Executing with speed, safety and discipline is crucial, which is why the company continues to invest in technology, doubling our energetics capacity by 2026, and facility expansion to deliver the capabilities its customers need now to respond to growing threats. This is all vital to the success of "can't-fail" next-generation systems that will destroy adversary hypersonic missiles, upgrade the homeland missile defense system to counter increasingly complex intercontinental ballistic missile threats and propel our missiles faster and farther than ever before. Northrop Grumman has the verified expertise and historical track record to meet a massive propulsion challenge and equip our country's large-scale, next-generation military programs."

But hey, might as well toss them fifty, two hundred billion just to see if they can turn in some good homework with it. The taxpayer doesn't have too many competing options to get hypersonics in a jiffy.

FMI: www.northropgrumman.com

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