DARPA's hypersonic weapons move closer to free-flight testing

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon's concepts are designed to go beyond Mach 5.

Raytheon / Northrop-Grumman

According to DARPA, it’s on track to perform “free-flight testing” for two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) later this year. Travelling at speeds of Mach 5 and above, they could be capable of reaching anywhere on the globe quickly. For comparison, current cruise missiles travel at subsonic speeds below Mach 0.8, while air-to-air missiles travel at speeds between Mach 1 and Mach 5.

The two concepts built by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon use scramjets that use the vehicle’s speed to compress air prior to combustion and extend flight at hypersonic speeds, while plans for aircraft include a turbine aircraft so it wouldn’t need a booster to get going in the first place.

Defense News points out an earlier report that one of the weapons was destroyed during a captive carry test, but DARPA said those results were classified. According to today’s announcement, both variants have successfully completed captive carry tests.

Next up is testing that focuses on “ hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise, in addition to affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches.” Program manager Andrew Knoedler said in a statement that “These tests provide us a large measure of confidence – already well informed by years of simulation and wind tunnel work – that gives us faith the unique design path we embarked on will provide unmatched capability to US forces.”