Boeing wins Phase 2 of DARPA's 'Glide Breaker' program

Boeing has officially beaten all competition to become the sole defense contractor for DARPA's 'Glide Breaker' Phase 2 program.
Christopher McFadden
Artist's impression of "Glide Breaker" kill vehicles intercepting hypersonic glide vehicles.
Artist's impression of "Glide Breaker" kill vehicles intercepting hypersonic glide vehicles.


Boeing has just signed a $71 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop hypersonic missile glider kill vehicles, the company has announced. Dubbed, fittingly, 'Glide Breaker', this contract is the program's second phase, which will endeavor to flesh out the technical details for knocking out hypersonic vehicles while in their glide phase.

The contract will be completed by February 2027, with the majority of the work to be done in Alabama, California, and Missouri.

Kill 'em early

'Glide Breaker' is focused on creating critical technologies and a prototype that can intercept hypersonic vehicles before they begin evasive maneuvers and become harder to target. According to Major Nathan Greiner, the program manager at DARPA, these interceptors are intended to offer regional missile defense in areas where US troops and resources are deployed, such as in the Indo-Pacific arena, which is currently the main area of hypersonic development for the U.S.

The program's Phase 2, which spans four years and has a total value of $70.6 million, will be geared towards advancing technical expertise on jet interactions with the aim of developing propulsion control systems. This will be achieved, Boeing explains, through rigorous wind tunnel testing and flight experiments, which will (hopefully) yield valuable insights and data to inform the creation of innovative and effective propulsion control mechanisms. DARPA issued the bid solicitation for this project in April.

“Hypersonic vehicles are among the most dangerous and rapidly evolving threats facing national security,” said Gil Griffin, executive director of Boeing Phantom Works Advanced Weapons. “We’re focusing on the technological understanding needed to further develop our nation’s counter-hypersonic capabilities and defend from future threats," he added.

“This phase of the 'Glide Breaker' program will determine how factors like hypersonic airflow and firing jet thrusters to guide the vehicle affect system performance at extreme speed and altitude in a representative digital environment,” said Griffin. “We’re operating on the cutting edge of what’s possible in terms of intercepting an extremely fast object in an incredibly dynamic environment," he added.

As reported by Breaking Defense, the "Glide Breaker" initiative in its initial stages was primarily concerned with devising and presenting a "Divert and Attitude Control System" (DACS) that would facilitate the navigation of a potential kill vehicle. For this purpose, DARPA granted Northrop Grumman a sum of $13 million, while Aerojet Rocketdyne received $12 million. However, only Boeing is now being considered to move the project forward.

In DARPA's bid solicitation, Phase 1 focused on an important step but did not cover so-called "endoatmospheric effects." These effects include controlling the kill vehicle during the complicated interactions between the DACS jets and the "hypersonic cross flow," which, Boeing explains, are currently poorly understood. It is this that Phase 2 hopes to figure out.

Other options available

“If successful, the results of Phase 2 will provide the foundation for a future program of record interceptor,” the solicitation said. Currently, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is collaborating with two primary contractors, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon (now a subsidiary of parent company RTX), to create a Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) and aim for an initial deployment in 2035.

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