ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
While hypersonic vehicles – those which are capable of going faster than five times the speed of sound – have been around since the 1950s, their use in warfare and defense is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come.
As the Department of Defense looks to expand its use of hypersonic missiles, drones and aircraft in the near future, there is a group of Air Force Reservists with a wealth of both military and civilian experience in hypersonics eager to help the DoD reach its lofty goals.
The Reserve Hypersonics Team was established in the fall of 2018 and is comprised of 22 of the smartest individuals the Reserve has to offer.
“The Reserve Hypersonics Team is very near and dear to my heart,” said Col. Andrew Leone, the RHT director. As a Reservist, Leone serves as the mobilization assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistic’s deputy assistant secretary for contracting.
“The purpose of the hypersonics team is not to lead any effort,” he said. “We are an internal consultancy of subject matter experts who are there to augment the current efforts on hypersonics. This is an additional duty for everybody on the team, but they all bring invaluable experience and a willingness to help support the DoD in whatever it needs in terms of hypersonics.”
Five Reserve general officers serve as the RHT’s board of advisors. Team members have a wide range of backgrounds and specialties, from agile acquisitions and contracting to energetic materials and aerodynamics. The "RHT construct" is something the Reserve is looking at duplicating for several other programs across the Air Force.
While much of what the RHT does is classified, the support team members provide ranges from the relatively simple to the extremely complex.
“For example,” Leone said, “when we started looking for a comprehensive list of all of the wind tunnels in the United States capable of conducting hypersonic testing, we found out that such a list didn’t exist.
“When these vehicles travel through the atmosphere or subatmosphere, they get extremely hot and create plasma (ionized gas). They are actually bathed in plasma. You have to have special wind tunnels to mimic that. So we had a couple of our PhDs do a research project and they were able to put together a comprehensive list of all hypersonic-capable wind tunnels and their capabilities that exist in industry, academia and the military around the country.
“We got it out to all of the stakeholders and it was very well received. It’s a very valuable tool that didn’t exist before.”
As a more complicated example, team members Col. Joseph Tringe and Lt. Col. Harris Hall recently collaborated and completed a study on how hypersonic vehicle plasma interacts with electromagnetic waves. As a civilian, Tringe, who holds a PhD in materials engineering, leads the Nondestructive Evaluation Group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, charged with performing static and dynamic measurements on a wide variety of mission-critical materials, components and devices. Hall, who has his PhD in mechanical engineering, is a senior research electronics engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio, with a focus on design and development of novel microsystems as enabling components for next-generation sensors.
For the Reserve, Tringe is the senior IMA for capability integration in the Portfolio Architect Office of the Space and Missile Systems Center. There, he is responsible for identifying and exploiting cross-cutting technologies for missions including satellite communications, missile warning and positioning, navigation and timing.
As a Reservist, Hall is the IMA to the director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Operations Directorate, which provides oversight and guidance for all flight test activities across the laboratory enterprise, including hypersonic test activities. He is also the senior IMA for the Air Force Research Lab’s headquarters.
Their study focused on how the volume of ionized gas, or plasma, which surrounds a hypersonic vehicle during flight can interact strongly with electromagnetic waves, especially those at radio frequencies. This interaction can be exploited for sensing of hypersonic vehicle flight and flight characteristics. Their paper provided an overview of the physics of the electromagnetic wave-plasma interaction, highlighting relevant phenomena for hypersonic vehicles and pointed at future research that needs to be conducted.
Tringe said he is proud to serve on the RHT.
“I’ve loved my time with the RHT because it has allowed me to work closely with a talented team of motivated Reserve officers and learn more about a fascinating and important problem with major implications for national security,” he said. “I’ve been able to directly apply my technical knowledge to accelerate solutions and integrate efforts that otherwise would have been technically isolated. The skills and knowledge available through the RHT enable important questions about hypersonic vehicles and flight to be addressed quickly and effectively by a multi-disciplinary team with direct links to some of the most effective companies and organizations in the country. We can leverage our civilian and military experiences to inform our thinking and to develop new ideas and solutions.”
Hall said being a part of the RHT has been a rewarding experience.
“Being on the RHT has offered me the opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for this critical technical area for the Air Force and perhaps help advance it,” he said. “It is essential that we engage our total force to the maximum extent possible to address the most pressing challenges and needs our military faces. The RHT serves as a good example of this.”
Leone explained that the RHT was borne out of another Reserve organization – the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Joint Reserve Directorate – that was established in 2006 to take advantage of the civilian expertise that Reservists often possess.
“The JRD has subject matter experts in a wide range of areas who help guide our decision makers in the research and engineering space to help shape our future fight,” Leone said. “Brig. Gen. John Olson (a current member of the RHT’s board of advisors) thought it would be a good idea to put together a similar team focused just on hypersonics and the RHT was formed.”
The colonel said the RHT has so far primarily been involved with the Air Force and DoD, but is looking to expand its support.
“Our plan now is to work more with the Army and Navy and the other stakeholders,” he said. “Our senior leaders have stated that hypersonics is a top priority for the DoD and it’s vital for our future fight. As we continue to do more and more with hypersonics, the RHT will be there to provide invaluable support.” #ReserveReady #ReserveReform