DARPA Hypersonic Weapons To Carry Out Free-Flight Testing Soon

Free-flight testing may happen before the end of the year.
Fabienne Lang
HAWC illustrationRaytheon

September 1st saw the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announcing that a pair of their hypersonic weapon variants accomplished their captive carry tests.

Now, they will be moving towards free-flight tests before the end of the year.

Speeds of Mach 5 and above

The variants of the hypersonic weapons, better known as Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), are built by both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon

HAWC will be able to travel at speeds of Mach 5 or more, meaning their ability to reach almost anywhere on the planet incredibly quickly will be a reality. As Engadget's comparison states, subsonic missiles travel at speeds below Mach 0.8, and air-to-air missiles go between Mach 1 to Mach 5. So to say HAWC will operate rapidly from further distances is an understatement.

HAWC's concepts use scramjets that compress air before combustion thanks to the vehicle's speed, which in turn extends the flight to hypersonic speed levels. Moreover, no booster would be required as the aircraft plans include a turbine aircraft. 

It's believed that one of the weapons was destroyed after a captive carry test, as per Defense News' report. However, DARPA has yet to confirm this, and following yesterday's announcement of both weapons successfully carrying out captive carry tests, the prior coment is yet to be determined as true. 

Andrew Knoedler, program manager who wrote DARPA's recent statement, explained "HAWC plans to pursue flight demonstrations to address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars—air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability."

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Now, DARPA and the U.S. Air Force will be testing the "hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise, in addition to affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches," per Knoedler

"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 US forces," he added.

The next tests will be carried out before the end of 2021.

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