DARPA Reveals Successful Hypersonic Cruise Missile Flight Test Has Occurred

It is worth pointing out that Lockheed Martin’s design follows the same general concept, using a rocket booster to accelerate the main air vehicle, which is powered by a different scramjet developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. What was then Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne had developed the SJY61 scramjet for the X-51A. Lockheed Martin is now in the process of trying to buy Aerojet Rocketdyne.

DARPA’s current plan is to wrap up the HAWC program in the 2022 Fiscal Year, which starts on Friday. At that point, the plan is, at least in part, for technologies developed under HAWC to feed into the Air Force’s own Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) project. 

HACM is just one of a number of air-launched, air-breathing hypersonic weapon programs, as well as hypersonic aircraft projects, known to be in development now within the Air Force, as well as the Navy. This includes another Air Force project known as Mayhem, which is focused more on hypersonic engine technology, and a Navy effort called Screaming Arrow. The Navy had curiously canceled Screaming Arrow, which was centered on the development of a hypersonic anti-ship missile, in March, before rebooting it last month.

It’s also worth noting that DARPA had originally hoped to begin HAWC flight testing by the end of 2020 and it’s not clear how mature either the Raytheon/Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin designs may be now. DARPA did not say whether the launch of the Raytheon/Northrop Grumman demonstrator last week was the first flight test of any HAWC air vehicle, successful or not.

Just last week, the Air Force also said it is in the process of reassessing its own hypersonic weapons plans, overall. Challenges with the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), which is unrelated to HAWC, have been among the issues prompting this introspection. The first two flight tests of the AGM-183A, which the Air Force hopes will be the U.S. military’s first operational air-launched hypersonic weapon, have failed, as you can read more about here.

“I’m not satisfied with the pace,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said at the annual Air Force Association (AFA) Air, Space, and Cyber Conference last week. “We’re making some progress on the technology. I would like to see it be better.”

At the same time, some members of Congress are pushing the U.S. military, as a whole, to make more progress with regard to air-launched hypersonic capabilities of various kinds, and air-breathing platforms in particular. A report accompanying the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of a draft of the annual U.S. defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was released last week, said, “The committee is concerned that there is a lack of focus on air-launched and airbreathing hypersonic capability.”

The U.S. military, as well as many lawmakers, see hypersonic weapons as essential to preserving America’s military edge in future conflicts, especially potential high-end fights against near-peer adversaries, such as Russia or China. The Russians and the Chinese are already in the process of developing and fielding their own hypersonic missiles of various types.

No matter what, work on HAWC has always been seen as just one stepping stone to the Air Force, as well as the Navy, fielding operational air-breathing cruise missiles. With this disclosure of this flight test last week, we may now begin to learn more about the exact extent of the progress that DARPA has already made in this regard.

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