DAPRA, USAF to conduct first free-flight testing of hypersonic missile this year

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) have announced the successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). Now the developers are preparing for the first free-flight tests of the HAWK prototypes, which are scheduled for later this year.

Hypersonic rockets with atmospheric jet engines were developed by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies as part of the HAWC concept. The HAWK project’s goal is to develop affordable hypersonic cruise missiles that breathe air to feed its engine, which would help the weapon to be launched at a low altitude and closer to the target. It could be launched from several types of fighters, including the fifth-generation F-35 aircraft.

Both the companies have each tested the advanced air vehicle configurations that promise to achieve and sustain efficient hypersonic flight. Their upcoming flight tests will focus on hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise.

Completing the captive carry series of tests demonstrates both HAWC designs are ready for free flight,” said Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “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 the unmatched capability to U.S. forces.”

In addition, the U.S. Air Force is implementing the Future Hypersonic Program (FHP), the goal of which is the development of an aviation two-stage hypersonic missile. According to the requirements of the military, the first – booster – stage of the rocket must be solid-fuel. It will accelerate the ammunition to a speed at which it will be possible to turn on a hypersonic jet engine. The rocket itself will carry a conventional warhead.

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