The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office has placed separate awards on three contractors to design and develop advanced booster concepts as part of the Operational Fires (OpFires) development programme.
OpFires is a joint DARPA/US Army initiative for a mobile, tactical weapon delivery system capable of carrying a variety of payloads to a variety of ranges, underpinning which is a current imperative to develop and exploit hypersonic weapons technologies. According to DARPA, "the overarching goal of the OpFires program is to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system enabling advanced tactical weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly and precisely engage critical time sensitive targets."
United States ground-based forces "are currently limited in effective range of surface to-surface precision fires. The OpFires program seeks to provide operational/theater level commanders with flexible capabilities to strike time sensitive targets while providing persistent standoff from unpredictable land launch positions. This flexibility would restore combatant commander options in force deployment and employment, enabling adaptable engagement at extended ranges," the agency said.
DARPA issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in March 2018 seeking innovative solutions for the OpFires Propulsion System, with the provision that "the successful performers for the OpFire Propulsion System programme will have recent, relevant, and significant experience and expertise in propulsion system design and development to include booster performance analysis and missile integration."
According to DARPA, "OpFires Propulsion System focuses on the early development and demonstration of innovative booster solutions, including, but not limited to, liquid and hybrid propellant mixtures, pintle motors, variable thrust nozzles, pulse motors, re-ignitable propellants, and other technologies that vary thrust and manage energy at scale for large tactical missiles. Innovations such as these will need to maximize the operational range envelope of an integrated missile system and adapt to a variety of potential payloads."
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