First test of HAWC hypersonic missile.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, announced that it, along with the Air Force and Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman, conducted the first free-flight test of a hypersonic jet-propelled missile under the HAWC project.

The test was conducted last week, in support also from the Navy (US Navy). As highlighted, all the objectives of the task were achieved: integration and release sequence of the missile, safe separation from the carrier, ignition of the missile accelerator and away from the carrier, rejection of the accelerator, ignition of the jet engine and flight at hypersonic speed, i.e. above Ma5. Raytheon Technologies developed the missile and Northrop Grumman developed the thruster.

The HAWC project is also studying a competing missile developed by Lockheed Martin. Tethered tests of both types of missiles were completed in August 2020, but since then there has been no news of possible tests of a competing design, although free flight tests were announced as recently as last year.

Interestingly, the missile test just completed was the first successful flight of a scramjet-powered hypersonic missile (i.e., one equipped with a supersonic combustion chamber) based on hydrocarbon fuel since May 1, 2013, when the experimental Boeing X-51A Waverider missile (actually an unmanned aircraft) was last tested.

But more significant is the news, unofficial as of yet, that Northrop Grumman’s thruster engine is half the size of Boeing’s propulsion unit. In case of a possible use of this technology for the development of a functional weapon, it may be of fundamental importance.

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman formed a partnership on the HAWC project in June 2019, but the initiative itself was launched in 2014. In October 2016, Raytheon was awarded $174.7 million to study the hypersonic missile concept. In turn, on March 5, 2019, Raytheon received $63.3 million to develop a gliding warhead for a medium-range hypersonic missile.

As disclosed, the design of both companies used in HAWC is based on the solutions and experience of Orbital Sciences Corporation (now part of Northrop Gruuman) on the unmanned hypersonic aircraft X-43, developed for the space agency NASA under the Hyper-X program and tested in 2001 and 2004, which reached a record speed of Ma9.6 for a jet aircraft.

As for Lockheed Martin’s competing project, what is known so far is that the thruster was developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which previously, as Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, built the SJY61 engine for the X-51A. Lockheed Martin is currently in the process of finalizing its acquisition of this company.

The current schedule for the HAWC project calls for completion in mid-2022, after a series of free flights. Significantly, the USAF plans to begin a 12-month detailed technical design verification phase of the HACM hypersonic cruise missile in the third quarter of 2023. It is no secret that technologies developed at HAWC will be used here. It is also worth keeping in mind another cruise missile project codenamed Mayhem, which was launched last August 12, as well as a similar US Navy initiative codenamed Screaming Arrow.

At the same time, the USAF is not satisfied with another hypersonic weapons program, namely the AGM-183A ARRW , in which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor. Last week at the Air, Space, & Cyber Conference of the Air Force Association (AFA), USAF Secretary Frank Kendall said that despite advances in technology, the pace of the program is unsatisfactory. Recall that on July 28 of this year. A second unsuccessful test of the missile in free flight was conducted.

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