On March 29, during a congressional hearing, Andrew Hunter, the head of acquisitions for the United States Air Force, confirmed that the AGM-183A, a hypersonic manoeuvring glider launched from a strategic bomber, will no longer be developed in favour of the HACM [Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile], which is deemed more promising but will not enter service until 2028. This decision was made in favour of the HACM [Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile].
The United States, which has lagged behind Russia and China in this field, has an abundance of hypersonic weapons initiatives. In addition, each of the principal branches of the American military has its hypersonic missile programs. This is the case with the United States Navy, which, along with the United States Army, finances the C-HGB [Common Hypersonic Glide Body] programme to equip its three Zumwalt-class destroyers and Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines with this capability. However, the US Navy has other initiatives in the works.
The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) granted two contracts to Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Lockheed Martin on March 27 to develop a long-range, high-speed hypersonic missile designated as HALO (Hypersonic Air Launched Offensive Anti-Area). The two contracts are worth 116 million dollars when added together. The US Navy has previously stated that it desires to deploy an air-launched hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile by 2028. Hypersonic weapons are “a high priority” in the national defence strategy.
According to the provisions of the contracts that NAVAIR disclosed, the manufacturers will ensure the technological maturation and development of the hypersonic weapon’s propulsion system to be compatible with the aircraft, guaranteeing the system’s ability to function. The two companies have until December 2024 to complete this stage in the project, at which point their preliminary designs will be appraised before the start of flight testing. These shorter-term deadlines, according to Capt. Richard Gensley, the programme manager for the Precision Strike Weapons programme office (PMA-201), are a response to an “aggressive schedule” and a “more demanding threat environment” in which the United States military must function.
Raytheon is in a better situation to carry out this project than Lockheed Martin because Raytheon was already selected to develop the HACM for the US Air Force.
The over-the-horizon offensive anti-surface warfare (OASuW) capability requirement of the US Navy is evolving to focus on developing hypersonic missile capability to enable a rapid reaction to threats growing in range and sophistication in an environment that is contested and denied. This is to enable the US Navy to compete better with other global navies. To support the acquisition of additional OASuW capabilities, the US Navy brought an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to a successful conclusion in April 2021. The need for a hypersonic capability was not specified in the AoA requirement; however, the requirements that must be fulfilled under Increment 2 have always existed from the perspective of the OASuW threat faced by the US Navy. It is anticipated that Increment 2 will address problems with threats with longer ranges and more sophisticated defences.
Providing the Navy with the necessary weapons to function in contested battle spaces, including the ability to successfully overcome opponents’ anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, is the HALO ASuW requirement programme’s goal.
The US Navy currently has aircraft equipped with operational AGM-158C missiles, a part of the USN’s OASuW Increment 1 requirement. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is responsible for developing the secretive, long-range anti-ship missile known as LRASM. It outfits the United States Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which have a capacity of two missiles, and the US Air Force’s B-1B Lancer supersonic heavy bombers, which have a capacity of twenty-four missiles on take-off. The LRASM is a subsonic missile with a range of 930 kilometres, a 450-kilogramme penetrating projectile, and can travel at subsonic speeds. The United States Navy has sponsored improving the LRASM until the HALO becomes operational. It makes it possible to add hardware and software upgrades to the missile, enhancing its effectiveness and ability to target specific locations.
The HALO programme also provides OASuW with kinetic capability; however, this capability operates at a greater range than Increment 1 and at a pace that affects the overall pace of the fight. In contrast to the currently available long-range weaponry, hypersonic capabilities enable a more timely engagement with the targets they are intended to destroy. This is necessary to have any kind of impact on the flow of the combat. The US Navy needs to be able to eliminate the danger in such a short amount of time that it hinders the adversary’s capacity to respond.