Raytheon and Lockheed to develop US hypersonic ship-killing missiles for US Navy

Global defense technology giants Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have been independently commissioned to provide The Navy with hypersonic anti-ship missiles.
Christopher McFadden
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The missiles will bring death to ships at high speeds.

tunart/iStock 

The United States Navy has announced its intention to commission Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to develop prototype hypersonic anti-ship missiles separately. Under the new contracts, totaling around $116 million, both companies will compete to build high-speed, low-altitude missiles to bring death to enemy warships over hundreds of miles. Similar in concept to existing Exocet missiles (but much faster), the winning prototype will undergo further development once this initial phase terminates in late-2024.

Little else known

Other details of the proposals from both military tech giants are unknown, but most military analysts believe they will likely feature scramjet engines. The final designs will also need to be carried by the service’s carrier-based FA-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning jet fighters and perhaps future successors. As analysts explain, the program's focus on anti-ship capabilities also tells of the US Navy's growing anxiety around potential conflict with China, specifically its growing Navy.

The US Navy is working on other hypersonic missiles, but these are more gliders designed to hit static targets. Such weapons are also designed to launch from the vertical launch cells of U.S. Virginia-class submarines and Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers. HALO's approach involves a conventional cruise missile that flies at a lower altitude and utilizes ramjet or scramjet propulsion. These engines are highly efficient in maintaining high speeds as they use supersonic airflow for compression instead of a compressor. Although they typically necessitate separate boo, they are excellent for their purpose.

The Navy currently possesses two high-quality anti-ship missiles, the AGM-158C LRASM and the "Maritime Strike Tomahawk," with longer ranges. It also has "Harpoon" and "Naval Strike Missiles" for shorter ranges. However, these weapons are subsonic, moving below the speed of sound, and are highly effective. Other guided weapons are less specialized but still effective against moving naval targets. Examples include the "HARM" anti-radar missiles, SM-6 air defense missiles, and JSOW glide bombs.

Analysts see HALO as a robust response to claims by countries like China and Russia, who have both been very vocal about their scramjet-powered missiles, like the latter's 3M22 Zircon anti-ship cruise missile. China has also showcased its DF-21D and DF-26B ballistic missiles and a ship-based variation of the former named the YJ-21, which has a higher trajectory.

High-speed and low-altitude

The US Navy requires HALO to possess exceptional speed to achieve its objectives. Advanced naval vessels usually possess robust air defense radars and multi-layered systems with numerous missiles and close-defense Gatling cannons. The chances of breaching the enemy defenses are increased by possessing highly efficient missiles. Moreover, it reduces the time taken to reach the target, which can result in disabling their offensive weaponry before it is used against us.

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