DARPA, USAF Test Hypersonic HAWC Cruise Missiles from Lockheed, Raytheon

DARPA and the U.S. Air Force successfully tested the captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept built by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies.

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program is a joint effort between the two agencies to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile (hypersonic ALCM).

In a statement, DARPA said that with the completion of the tests, the agency and the Air Force are ready to proceed to first free-flight testing within the calendar year.

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

The focus of these upcoming flight tests will be on hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise, in addition to affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches.

Currently the HAWC program is months behind their original schedule as the first flight was to be completed in 2019.

The HAWC program plans to pursue flight demonstrations that address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars. Those challenge areas include air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability.

The technologies of primary interest include:

  • Advanced air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight
  • Hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise
  • Approaches to managing the thermal stresses of high-temperature cruise
  • Affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches

Both of the HAWC performers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies have tested advanced air vehicle configurations that promise to achieve and sustain efficient hypersonic flight.

Aviation Week reported in June that a hypersonic missile being developed under the HAWC program was destroyed in a test accident.

The report indicated that the scramjet-powered missile was believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive carry flight test.

The B-52 Stratofortress bomber, which acted as the carrier aircraft, was thought to be from the USAF’s 419th Flight Test Squadron (419 FLTS) at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California and that it was the Lockheed Martin HAWC variant involved in the incident.

Lockheed Martin’s HAWC demonstrator is powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine. Raytheon’s demonstrator is powered by a Northrop Grumman scramjet combustor.

Since the inception of the HAWC program, it has been executed as a joint program between DARPA and the USAF. DARPA is also working in cooperation with military services and agencies, including the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They are working to validate, and eventually transition the key technologies.

The extensive flight data being collected intends to increase the confidence in air-breathing hypersonic systems. This will also reduce the risks to potential future acquisition programs across the U.S. government.


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