The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne have successfully flight tested the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).
We last heard something on the topic back in September 2021, when a different vehicle configuration from another contractor team also reached a hypersonic flight. The scramjet-powered HAWC missile was carried under the wings of an aircraft before it was released that then flew for an undisclosed distance at hypersonic speeds. It was just a trial run to validate the ability of HAWC’s airframe and propulsion system to reach and navigate at hypersonic speeds.
The Lockheed Martin HAWC flight test is the second successful flight in DARPA’s HAWC program. After release from a carrier aircraft, the Lockheed Martin version of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) missile was boosted to its Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine ignition envelope. From there, it quickly accelerated to and maintained a cruise faster than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) for an extended period of time. The vehicle reached altitudes greater than 65,000 feet and flew for more than 300 nautical miles, furthering the understanding of operations in the high-speed flight regime for the team behind the project.
“This Lockheed Martin HAWC flight test successfully demonstrated a second design that will allow our warfighters to competitively select the right capabilities to dominate the battlefield,” said Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “These achievements increase the level of technical maturity for transitioning HAWC to a service program of record.”
Experts are still analyzing flight test data but are confident that they will provide the U.S. Air Force and Navy with excellent options to diversify the technology available for their future missions.
Hypersonic air-breathing vehicles utilize air captured from the atmosphere to achieve sustained propulsion. The speed and maneuverability of such hypersonic cruise missiles allow both evasive defenses and quick strikes. Their kinetic energy can effectively destroy targets even without high explosives.