DARPA’s hypersonic cruise missile flew its final test, and was later completed

Completed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force Ultrasonic breathing weapon concept (HAWC) with a final flight test involving a Lockheed Martin design. DARPA actually plans to use the data collected all the time HAWC’s development over the years To inform a follow-up program called More Opportunities with HAWC (MoHAWC) that will aim to demonstrate a capability that is another step closer to an operational hypersonic weapon.

Darpa Announce today The HAWC program ended after flight testing in early January of Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne, the latter company producing the missile’s scramjet engine. a Competitor HAWC design From Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, who have achieved a Successful free flight test in September 2021as tested as part of the HAWC project.

An artist’s conception of the air-breathing hypersonic missile previously fired by DARPA in connection with the HAWC program. credit: Darpa

the interview Lockheed Martin press release Explains that the missile was It was launched from a B-52 Stratofortress bomberas was the case with an earlier announced flight test of the company’s HAWC design last April. During this month’s testing, the HAWC’s supporting stage first accelerated it to high speed. Then the Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet took over, propelling the rocket at speeds past the March 5 hypersonic threshold. After that, the missile flew more than 60,000 feet and more than 300 nautical miles away, according to DARPA.

“The HAWC program has created a new generation of hypersonic engineers and scientists,” said Andrew ‘Tippy’ Knoedler, HAWC program manager. “HAWC has also brought a wealth of data and advances to Society breathes hypersonic air. Industry teams have attacked the challenge of scramjet-powered vehicles Seriously, we had the guts and luck to make it work.”

“We’ve had our share of difficulties,” Noedler added. “Through the pandemic, a strained supply chain, and atmospheric rivers, our industry partners have stepped forward, mitigating risks where they can and embracing others. They have delivered on their promises, and they have proven the concept to work.”

Lockheed Martin’s role in DARPA’s HAWC program began in 2018 when the company was awarded a $928 million contract by the agency and the Air Force to develop its version of the hypersonic cruise missile. While Lockheed Martin initially proposed designing it as a ground attack capability, the company has since filed an Navy strike variant In the concept of the US Navy with the idea that it can be launched from F-35C stealth fighters among other platforms.

Artist’s rendering of a US Navy F-35C Joint Strike Fighter carrying a futuristic HAWC version under its wing while launching another. credit: Joseph Trevithick

The Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet used in Lockheed Martin’s HAWC missile was key to ensuring that the weapon would be able to maintain supersonic speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10 in flight. However, details about Lockheed Martin/Aerojet Rocketdyne and Raytheon/Nortrop Grumman’s HAWC designs are still limited.

sharing Similar aspirations like Others are faster than the speed of sound a weapon development programs In the United States, HAWC envisions providing the US Army with a capability that can strike a critical target from great standoff distances at very high speeds and on short notice. HAWC focused specifically on mature technologies, such as scramjet engines, that would go into future hypersonic cruise missile designs.

While capabilities such as HAWC are much closer in form and function to current cruise missiles, ie Those faster than soundThese hypersonic weapons will travel at faster speeds while still being able to maneuver through the atmosphere, making it very difficult for enemies to defend against.

DARPA has made it clear from the outset that the Lockheed Martin and Raytheon designs are just a stepping stone in the Air Force’s larger push toward developing an air-breathable hypersonic cruise missile. Now that DARPA’s HAWC project has completed its final testing, the agency plans to continue maturing this technology under the aforementioned follow-up program called MoHAWC.

“These missiles will expand the operational envelope of the scramjet and provide on-slope technology for future registered programs,” the DARPA press release reads.

Budget justification documents for fiscal year 2023 (FY23) say efforts under the MoHAWC program, for which DARPA is requesting $60 million, will include “advancing hydrocarbon-powered propulsion, shrinking navigation components, updating aircraft integration algorithms, and improving methods for manufacturing.” The document goes on to say, “Flight tests will expand the operational envelope. This program will collaborate with Navy and Air Force science and technology efforts to meet future technology introduction dates for registered service programs.”

Excerpts from FY23 budget justification documents explaining what the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs and Distribution requires. Credit: Department of Defense

The budget documents also include specific FY23 objectives for the MoHAWC project, which include incorporating HAWC lessons learned into the cruiser’s design; initiating the procurement of long lead components for four flight test systems; completing subsystem technology risk mitigation efforts; and commence assembly, integration and ground testing of the cruisers. While the term ‘cruiser’ in this context is a bit ambiguous, it could refer to a more powerful air-breathing hypersonic capability, in this case, most likely a cruise missile design.

A separate hypersonic air force initiative known as Chaos Project, which aims to offer a larger-class air-breathing hypersonic system capable of multitasking, has also used such language in program explanations. in meeting with Aviation WeekThe Air Force specifically described the Mayhem as a “multi-mission cruiser” due to the program’s “early focus on hypersonic flight capabilities continuously independent of potential payloads,” but it is unclear what relationship the Mayhem and HAWC might have. If any at all.

Introducing the Project Mayhem hypersonic weapon concept. Credit: Read

Furthermore, HAWC is expected to feed the Air Force Hypersonic attack cruise missile (HACM) project. HACM is another Department of Defense program aimed at developing an air-launched, air-breathing hypersonic weapon, and a critical design review is currently scheduled sometime next summer.

Russia And China They have been actively advancing their hypersonic missiles of various types lately, which some argue only underscores the need for the United States to create such a capability. there criticism was That the United States may be falling behind Russia and China, which both claim to have already fielded hypersonic weapons. Indeed, Russia has recently insisted that Admiral Gorshkov, who at the time was said to be somewhere in the Atlantic, is currently armed with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles. It is not clear at this time how capable or battle-ready these missiles are.

Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov Leaves port on or about January 4, 2023. Credit: Tass

Supporters of developing hypersonic weapons argue that they will be essential capabilities for the United States in any developing future conflict. With DARPA’s completion of the HAWC program, opening the door to technology maturity under the new MoHAWC project, it appears the US Army is at least one step closer to meeting such a need.

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