U.S. Successfully Flight Tests Hypersonic Weapon

Northrop Grumman (NOC) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX) successfully completed the first powered test flight of their hypersonic weapon last week for the Air Force, DARPA said on Monday.


The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) uses a Northrop 3D printed scramjet engine attached to a Raytheon missile. During the test, they released the hypersonic weapon from the wing of an aircraft before the scramjet engine sent the missile into hypersonic flight. That’s past Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

A scramjet engine uses its forward trajectory to compress incoming air, instead of relying on an oxidizer like a rocket does.

DARPA says it met all primary goals of the test.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is also building its own HAWC demonstrator for DARPA and the Air Force. Both versions have successfully flown captive carry tests off a Boeing (BA) B-52 bomber.

Northrop shares closed up 0.4% to 357.21 on the stock market today. Raytheon closed up 0.2% and Lockheed up 1.1%.

Raytheon is also developing a Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) weapon with DARPA that would send a rocket to Mach 5 or above. Once that speed is reached, its payload would separate from the rocket and “glide” at hypersonic speed to its target.

Hypersonic Weapons Development Challenges

Analysts believe that hypersonic weapons have the potential to be the most disruptive battlefield technology since the advent of stealth. Unlike ballistic missiles, which fly in a predictable arc, hypersonic weapons fly in unpredictable flight paths, making them difficult to defend against.

China and Russia are building their own hypersonic weapons. China claimed to have a successful test flight of a hypersonic vehicle, the Starry Sky 2, back in 2019. And Russia reportedly demonstrated its Zircon hypersonic weapon in July.

But development challenges remain.

This month’s HAWC flight was delayed from an expected flight by the end of 2020 due to testing issues, according to an Air Force Magazine report.

The Air Force canceled Lockheed’s Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program last year. Then Lockheed’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon failed its first booster flight in April when the engine didn’t ignite.

Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for defense news and more.


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