The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, working in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, has completed a free flight test of its Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept last week.
The missile is built by Raytheon Technologies, in partnership with Northrop Grumman.
The HAWC was carried under the wing of an aircraft before it was released. Seconds later a solid rocket motor boosted HAWC to supersonic speeds, where the Northrop Grumman scramjet engine ignited and accelerated the missile, enabling it to reach hypersonic flight. The test validates the ability of HAWC’s airframe and propulsion system to reach and cruise at hypersonic speeds.
Scramjet engines use high vehicle speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds — Mach 5 or greater — which is five times the speed of sound. By traveling at these speeds, hypersonic weapons like HAWC are able to reach their targets more quickly than traditional missiles, allowing them to potentially evade defense systems.
“This is a history-making moment, and this success paves the way for an affordable, long-range hypersonic system in the near term to strengthen national security,” said Colin Whelan, vice president of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “This test proves we can deliver the first operational hypersonic scramjet, providing a significant increase in warfighting capabilities.”
The HAWC vehicle operates best in oxygen-rich atmosphere, where speed and maneuverability make it difficult to detect in a timely way.
“We have reached a milestone in delivering a game-changing capability to the warfighter,” said Dan Olson, vice president and general manager of Weapon Systems Division for Northrop Grumman. “Decades of learning advanced manufacturing techniques and industry partnerships helped us define what is now possible.”
Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman signed a teaming agreement in 2020 to develop, produce and integrate Northrop Grumman’s scramjet engines onto Raytheon’s air-breathing hypersonic weapons. The agreement enables both companies to combine their capabilities to accelerate development and demonstrate readiness to produce the next generation of tactical missile systems.
“The HAWC free flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our warfighters,” said Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next generation capability to the U.S military.”
Goals of the mission were: vehicle integration and release sequence, safe separation from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and boost, booster separation and engine ignition, and cruise. All primary test objectives were met.
The achievement builds on pioneering scramjet projects, including work on the X-30 National Aero-Space Plane as well as unmanned flights of NASA’s X-43 vehicles and the U.S. Air Force’s X-51 Waverider.
“HAWC’s successful free flight test is the culmination of years of successful government and industry partnership, where a single, purpose-driven team accomplished an extremely challenging goal through intense collaboration,” Knoedler added. “This historic flight would not have been possible without the dedication of industry, U.S. Air Force, and Navy flight test personnel who persevered through the pandemic to make the magic happen.”
The HAWC flight test data will help validate affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches that will field air-breathing hypersonic missiles to our warfighters in the near future.