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The Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation of the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 13 May 2024 that a GBP1 billion (EUR 1.16 billion) framework deal has been agreed to develop the UK’s first hypersonic strike capability.

Ninety organisations from across industry and academia have secured a place on the transformational Hypersonic Technologies & Capability Development Framework (HTCDF) agreement, which was set up to rapidly develop advanced hypersonic missile capabilities for the UK.

The organisations accepted onto the eight-lot framework, which is led by the UK MoD’s Team Hypersonics (UK), will now be eligible to bid for contracts, which will be worth up to GBP1 billion across the next seven years.

The award of contracts on the Framework will be managed by commercial experts at DE&S.

Project delivery has been designed with pace in mind, with the framework adopting mechanisms that align procurement and development objectives, preventing the traditional challenges that impede capability acquisition, DE&S asserted in a press release.

The approach to developing an agile route to market is part of a broader drive across the MoD to increase the speed of defence procurement.

The framework was announced late last year after the UK government indicated its intent to accelerate the development of a sovereign UK Hypersonic Strike Capability, whilst bolstering collaboration with Australia and the United States under the three-nation AUKUS strategic pact.

The HTCDF will be used to select suppliers to deliver services and supplies to support the research, development and testing of hypersonic technologies right through to a capability.

Intrinsically linked with the MoD’s ambition to transform acquisition, the framework enables focused research to be spirally developed through varying technical readiness levels (TRLs) onwards to a capability. The maturity of the services and supplies provided under the resulting call-off contracts will be TRL 1 – 9.

Alongside established weapon manufacturers and academic institutions, nearly half of the suppliers will be small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the vast majority of which are based in the UK.

“This diverse supply base will enable MoD to leverage the strength and breadth of UK and international talent and innovation across the defence enterprise,” DE&S stated.

The HTCDF will also re-open to new suppliers every six to 12 months to ensure that the MoD can continue to draw upon new technologies and emerging market capabilities. Opportunities to join the framework will be advertised on the UK MoD Defence Sourcing Portal (DSP).

“We had a fantastic response from those wanting to be part of what is an iconic national endeavour,” Team Hypersonics (UK) programme director Paul Wilson was quoted as saying by DE&S. “In an unsettled world the battlespace is continually evolving, and the UK MoD recognises the need for agility to ensure we can rapidly develop and deliver the capabilities our armed forces need to protect our interests and those of our allies.”

UK Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge added that hypersonics “will be a landmark capability of the future and it is essential we keep pace with the developments of our adversaries. The framework sends a clear demand signal to UK industry of our intention to develop hypersonics”.

A notional CGI of what a UK-developed hypersonic missile could look like. (Image: DE&S)