The hypersonic weapons programme that Lockheed Martin was developing will not be continued by the United States Air Force (USAF) as government officials in Washington indicate increased support for another initiative, Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), being developed by rival company Raytheon, writes Bloomberg.
Acquisition Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Andrew Hunter testified on Wednesday before the House Armed Services Subcommittee that the Air Force intends to refrain from making additional purchases of the AGM-183 ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon) that Lockheed Martin developed. However, the Air Force wants to perform two further flight tests for “important data collection.”
Hunter did not provide any additional information regarding the rationale behind the Pentagon’s exit from the ARRW programme; however, this decision comes after the recent failure of a hypersonic missile test.
This week, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted that the ARRW test was “not a success” because they did not receive the essential data. According to him, the USAF is “more committed” to using the Hypersonic Attack cruise missile produced by Raytheon. Because it is compatible with more USAF aircraft and will increase our general combat capability, the Pentagon believes that the Raytheon missile will play an essential part in the future.
According to Bloomberg, the Raytheon development can fly independently, unlike the ARRW, which must first be released from another missile before the warhead can separate and travel towards the target at a hypersonic speed.
Ilka Cole, a spokesperson for the Air Force, told Air Force Magazine via email on October 13 that the HACM differs from other hypersonic prototypes in that it utilises air-breathing engine technology. Due to its reliance on air currents for propulsion, an “air-breathing” cruise missile flies lower and shorter distances than others. In contrast, ARRW is a boost-glide weapon under development that would be discharged into the atmosphere and then use the energy from its rocket to fly towards its target.
The USAF is currently developing a strike system that can impact targets at eight times the speed of sound and traverse approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
The Congressional Research Service stated in a report that was dated February 13 that the nation’s air force had repeatedly pushed back the hypersonic missile and that it could be put into service as early as this autumn. The production plans for the missiles were disrupted the previous year due to three previous unsuccessful tests of the ARRW prototype. The Pentagon hoped to announce the first hypersonic weapon available for combat by September 30, 2022.
SCIFiRE project and the HACM
According to Air Force data, HACM is an air-launched, scramjet-powered hypersonic weapon designed to attack high-value targets from a distance in contested environments. Scramjet engines use high vehicle speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion, enabling sustained flight at hypersonic velocities of Mach 5 or greater (approximately 3,710 mph). By travelling at such a high speed, hypersonic weapons such as HACM may be able to circumvent defensive systems and reach their targets faster than comparable conventional missiles.
In 2020, the USAF and Australia entered into a multi-year bilateral project arrangement known as the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) to develop prototypes of air-breathing hypersonic cruise missiles.
Subsequently, the Air Force awarded Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Raytheon Technologies Corp. three 15-month SCIFiRE contracts in June 2021 to complete preliminary designs for a hypersonic cruise missile.
In September 2022, the USAF presented Raytheon Missiles and Defense with a contract worth nearly one billion dollars ($985 mission) to develop and demonstrate hypersonic attack cruise missile prototypes.
The project incorporates Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) enabled system technologies into a prototype demonstrating a multimission weapon concept for long-range prompt strike capability. Includes developing, testing and demonstrating a weapon prototype using the Digital ModelBased System Engineering (MBSE) process, WOSA, and Agile Software Development. The HACM programme will prioritise platform integration on the F-15E to expedite flight testing.
According to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General CQ Brown Jr., the HACM is designed to give commanders the operational flexibility to use fighters to keep high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk while maintaining bombers for use against other strategic targets.
The US and Australia have agreed to continue working together on the design and development of the HACM as part of the SCIFiRE agreement. The US will use Australian test infrastructure to conduct the inaugural all-up-round flight tests as part of this agreement.
The Air Force plans to have a HACM capability with operational usefulness delivered by 2027 at the latest.