Tunnel 9 called to arms once again

  • Published
  • By Dan Marren
  • AEDC/Tunnel 9

The White Oak, Maryland site of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex is home to the Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9. It has not always been its home. In fact, for almost three decades it was operated for the Department of Defense by the U.S. Navy and in some respects was a competitor to AEDC. That is only when you have the wrong idea about who is the foe.

Tunnel 9, was built during the last “great power” competition. The National Defense Strategy that was prevalent when I started my career in 1984, depicted the U.S. in a great power competition with the USSR. The space race and resultant “cold war” of nuclear deterrence was the mission at the time and one that was unfathomable to lose. We all understood what was at stake and the consequence of failure.

Tunnel 9, was conceived, constructed and equipped to fill a vital and unique role creating a test capability that did not exist anywhere in the world for a mission that required extreme accuracy and reliability. A new capability, T9, was created to replicate the important physics of flight at Mach 10-20 and do so in a productive environment that fit the speed of acquisition. We helped perfect strategic reentry for both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy and built systems that were second to none.

Since superiority and competitions are not stagnant, these powerful systems and the technologies that enable them spread to other foes. Tunnel 9 was once again called on to provide the right capability to design a new class of defensive systems that could defeat this class of strategic ballistic missile threats. The Missile Defense Agency called on Tunnel 9 to team with other capabilities at AEDC and elsewhere to underpin technologies vital to the success of ballistic missile interceptors. In the 1990s Tunnel 9 again rose to the occasion, developed sophisticated capabilities and delivered acquisition quality data to design, develop and field this new class of interceptor weapons. We built a new wind tunnel, equipped it with the latest instruments and diagnostics and executed sophisticated experiments obtaining the acquisition quality information to make this system work.

Today, after reviewing the 2018 National Defense Strategy, it is clear that we are once again in a great power competition after almost two decades of fighting the war on terror. This new great power competition challenge depicts old foes and some new ones rising to challenge our superiority across economic, diplomatic and security arenas once again.

As in the past, the uniqueness of AEDC and specifically the Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 is being asked to lean forward and respond. Over the past five years, Tunnel 9 has made the right alliances with our technical and strategic allies, built a new Mach 18 test capability, improved diagnostics and instruments and begun to train the workforce for a new paradigm of technology. This will ready us for a new challenge – building and fielding advanced hypersonic offensive and defensive weapons to be second to none in this new competition. Additionally, with the pace of acquisition we are also being asked to double our output to meet the new need. As in the past, I am certain that Tunnel 9 will respond appropriately and deliver capabilities to underpin our freedom and make any foe think long and hard about causing trouble worldwide.

On a personal note, as I arrive at over three decades of civilian service in the Defense Department, I am personally contemplating how my specific skills and talents can be leveraged to improve our chances of success in the years to come even if that support takes me away from the world’s best engineering complex and a team I have grown to respect greatly…Second to None!