Defense News

DARPA's air-breathing hypersonic missiles ready for free-flight tests

By Ed Adamczyk   |   Sept. 2, 2020 at 3:44 PM
DARPA and the U.S. Air Force announced the conclusion of captive carry tests of two hypersonic weapon prototypes on Tuesday, Free-flight testing will begin later this year. Photo courtesy of DARPA

Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Captive carry tests of two hypersonic weapons have been completed, with their first free flights scheduled for later this year, according to DARPA and the U.S. Air Force.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have each designed hypersonic missiles for a combined program of the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept program "seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile," a DARPA statement on Tuesday said.

The HAWC weapon employs "hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion," meaning the traditional fuel and air mixture but in prolonged airflow at speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound.

Upcoming flights will demonstrate the feasibility of that concept, according to officials.

"Completing the captive carry series of tests demonstrates both HAWC designs are ready for free flight," said HAWC program manager Andrew Knoedler.

"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 U.S. forces," said Knoedler, who works out of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.

Prior to the HAWC program, the Air Force concentrated on boost-glide hypersonic vehicles, which fly just below the level of space.

The technology of air-breathing hypersonic missiles has since matured to the point that they are technologically feasible and can fly through the atmosphere, engaging different targets, officials have said.

"Given how far scramjet technology has matured, I'd expect that we'll be able to go pretty quickly on this," Air Force acquisitions executive Will Roper said in April.