It’s hard to dispute the notion that before spending billions of dollars on a new weapon, the Pentagon ought to be able to explain what it’s for. So it’s surprising how often this rule isn’t followed.
Take the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. Just tested last month, it’s the latest candidate technology being developed for the Defense Department’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike program, an effort to develop long-range, ultra-fast, non-nuclear weapons. Following a successful test in 2011, hopes were running high ,but the booster rocket went out of control and was deliberately destroyed shortly after its launch from Alaska. If the test had gone to plan, the rocket would have released a glider that would then have flown—without power—for about 4,000 miles across the Pacific at many times the speed of sound.
Members of Congress will undoubtedly want to know about the causes of this failure and whether a do-over is warranted (which it may well be since the glider itself never got the chance to perform). But they should also be asking tough questions about how this weapon fits into broader U.S. defense strategy.