USAF Looks to Fast Track Hypersonic Weapon Design with New Contract

Lockheed Martin is awarded a major contract to design a new hypersonic missile prototype.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a lucrative contract to begin the development of a second hypersonic weapon prototype, with the aim of fielding a weapon by 2021.

As outlined in a USAF announcement, the Lockheed contract is “not to exceed” $480 million—which I guess is a good way to chasten frequent project cost overruns—and will provide the USAF with “the critical design review, test and production readiness support for the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).”

According to the Air Force, the ARRW is a wholly new technology from the current Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), which leverages more mature technologies to build a hypersonic weapon. In opposition to the HCSW approach, the ARRW will use more fringe technologies being devised by DARPA, the DoD’s far-forward focused technology arm. It aims to create a missile that will “push the art-of-the-possible.”

Though a funding mechanism for the ARRW is now understood, the public hasn’t been made aware of exactly how this system will work. Currently, hypersonic missiles are being designed to reach speeds that hover around Mach 5 using either ramjet or scramjet engines to leave the speed of sound in the dawdling behind.

Ramjet and scramjet engines burn and compress air that enters the vehicles intake at supersonic speeds, meaning that they need to be fired from an already screamingly fast launch vehicle. In tests, these launch vehicles have been either booster missiles or jets.

“We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the warfighter as soon as possible,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson.

With this new investment in hypersonic technology, the USAF may be fielding a fast-mover within a timeframe that is approaching soon.