US adds air-breathing hypersonic missiles to its arsenal

The missile accelerates itself to Mach 5 speed using the oxygen in its surroundings.
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Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), contractor-derived artist rendering.
Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), contractor derived artist rendering.

Raytheon Technologies  

The U.S. Air Force has finally chosen the HACM, hypersonic air-breathing missile, to be added to its arsenal.

The U.S. Air Force has officially selected Raytheon Technologies to collaborate with Northrop Grumman Corporation on the development of the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), according to press releases issued by the defense corporations on Friday.

"HACM is a powerful example of developing and integrating combat capabilities alongside our partners from the beginning," U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. said on Thursday.

"HACM will provide our commanders with tactical flexibility to employ fighters to hold high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk while maintaining bombers for other strategic targets."

The Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE), a joint U.S. and Australian research, helped design the first-of-its-kind missile.

The U.S. Air Force placed a strong emphasis on enhancing interoperability with allies and partners in order to stay ahead of strategic rivals. As evidence, the Air Force recently awarded Raytheon Missiles and Defense a $985,348,124 contract to develop and demonstrate Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile prototypes.

The Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Northrop Grumman team will provide operationally prepared missiles to the U.S. state under the terms of their contract.

"Raytheon Missiles & Defense continues to be at the forefront of hypersonic weapon and air-breathing technology development," said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense.

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"With advanced threats emerging around the globe, the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile will provide our warfighters a much-needed capability."

What is HACM weapon?

US adds air-breathing hypersonic missiles to its arsenal
The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC.

The scramjet-powered HACM is an air-breathing weapon. Scramjet engines, which enable prolonged flight at hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) or higher, use high vehicle speed to physically compress incoming air before combustion.

These speeds enable hypersonic weapons, such as the HACM, to reach their targets more swiftly than comparable conventional missiles, possibly enabling them to avoid enemy defense systems.

"The Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile creates a new class of strategically important weapons for the U.S. military," said Mary Petryszyn, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Defense Systems.

"Our scramjet propulsion technology is ushering in a new era for faster, more survivable, and highly capable weapons."

U.S. Australia joint venture

US adds air-breathing hypersonic missiles to its arsenal
United States and Australia flags.

The development, production, and integration of Northrop Grumman's scramjet engines onto Raytheon Technologies' air-breathing hypersonic weapons have been a joint effort between the two companies since 2019.

The next generation of tactical missile systems, air-breathing hypersonic missiles, can now be produced by both companies.

The Raytheon SCIFiRE prototype design for fighter aircraft integration will be operationalized by the HACM program, which will also yield two operationally useful leave-behind assets.

"We have over a decade of cooperation with our Australian allies in the advancement of hypersonic technologies, and now we will bring that shared knowledge to bear to address urgent national defense requirements," said Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

The U.S. and Australia will continue working together on HACM design and development through the SCIFiRE agreement, including utilizing Australian test facilities for the initial all-up-round flight testing, noted the press release.

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