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Mach 5 Boom! U.S. Air Force Successfully Conducted Hypersonic Missile Test

Hypersonic Missile
Hypersonic missile artist rendering. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The United States Air Force’s HAWC (Hypersonic Airbreathing Weapon Concept) successfully soared through the sky in its latest flight test, which took place earlier this month.

The missile, which is produced by aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin in coordination with Aerojet Rocketdyne, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was launched from a B-52 Stratofortress long-range strategic bomber.

The flight test accomplished the primary objective and doubled the amount of scramjet-powered vehicle data. The HAWC system’s first stage boosted it to the targeted engine ignition envelope, where the Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine fired and accelerated the system to speeds in excess of Mach 5.

The system performed as predicted traveling more than 300 nautical miles and reaching altitudes above 60,000 feet.

“Affordability and reliability are essential as we work to develop operational hypersonic solutions,” said John Clark, vice president and general manager Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “Both of our HAWC flight tests launched from an operational aircraft and matched performance models and predictions to aid affordable, rapid development of future hypersonic weapons.”

The United States military now has two hypersonic airbreathing missile designs – one from Lockheed Martin and another from Raytheon – to improve and mature in the future.

“This month’s flight added an exclamation point to the most successful hypersonic airbreathing flight test program in US history,” said Walter Price, an Air Force deputy for the HAWC program. “The things we’ve learned from HAWC will certainly enhance future U.S. Air Force capabilities.”

The Lockheed Solution 

The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Aerojet Rocketdyne team successfully worked to develop low-cost advanced manufacturing technologies, while further prioritizing extreme durability to vastly reduce piece and part costs.

According to the aerospace firm’s advanced weapons program office, through the purposeful integration of digital technologies throughout the design, test, and manufacturing process, the team validated that hypersonic systems can be produced affordably at the rates required to meet the urgent national need.

“The HAWC program created a generation of new hypersonic engineers and scientists,” said Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, the HAWC program manager. “HAWC also brought a wealth of data and progress to the airbreathing hypersonic community. The industry teams attacked the challenge of scramjet-powered vehicles in earnest, and we had the grit and luck to make it work.”

The HAWC program has now executed the final phase of the program, yet there is still data to analyze while there will be additional opportunities to mature the technology.

To that end, DARPA will continue the maturation via its More Opportunities with HAWC (MOHAWC) program, which will include producing and flying more vehicles that will build upon HAWC’s advances. Those missiles will further expand the operating envelope of the scramjet while also providing technology on-ramps for future programs of record.

High Speed, High Stakes Hypersonic Development

This latest breakthrough comes following concentrated efforts from the Pentagon to accelerate the research and development (R&D) of hypersonic weapons and to close the gap with China and Russia, which have also been developing hypersonic platforms.

To aid the efforts, the Pentagon had requested $4.7 billion for hypersonic development and testing in its fiscal year 2023 (FY23) budget, an increase of nearly $3.8 billion over the previous year’s request, Defense One reported.

The United States Air Force faced a number of setbacks with its prototype AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon’s (ARRW’s) rocket motor in 2022. However, in December, the U.S. efforts appeared to be back on track after the Air Force carried out a successful ARRW test.

A B-52H Stratofortress successfully released the All-Up-Round AGM-183A ARRW off the Southern California coast – the first launch of a full prototype operational missile. According to the Air Force, previous test events focused on proving the booster performance.

The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, executed the ARRW test flight.

Hypersonic weapons have been seen as a potential game-changer for any military, as the missiles can fly in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, and are generally designed to be highly maneuverable in flight – making them difficult to counter.

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Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    January 31, 2023 at 9:07 pm

    Hypersonic weapons are more important for Political bragging rights than battlefield utility. They are so expensive that few targets are worthy of them, and throwing F-35’s at the enemy would be cheaper. Plus they are short ranged (300 miles), and slower than orbital speed (Mach 23) ballistic missiles. From a combat power perspective, ballistic missiles are more bang for the buck.

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