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Air-Launched Weapons

DARPA preparing to test fly two hypersonic weapons

03 May 2019
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DARPA and the USAF are planning to test fly the TBG and the HAWC this year. Source: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is eyeing flight tests later this year for two hypersonic weapons, and it is teaming up with the US Army on developing such a ground-launched capability. However, at the same time, army leaders are drafting plans to consolidate duelling lines of effort within their hypersonic weapons' portfolio.

During a 1 May Defense Writers' Group breakfast with reporters, DARPA Director Dr Steven Walker fielded questions about ongoing projects inside the Pentagon's research arm including the development of two hypersonic weapons with the US Air Force (USAF) - the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) and the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

"[They are] two very different concepts but when you're talking hypersonic [weapons], it is good to have what I consider intended redundancy because it's a hard technology, making materials and propulsion systems that last in 3,000° Fahrenheit temperatures is not easy," Walker said.

The military envisions developing TBG as an air-launched rocket with speeds faster than Mach 5 and able to reach altitudes of nearly 200,000 ft. The HAWC is also designed to be air launched but is envisioned as a hypersonic cruise missile.

By the end of 2019, DARPA plans to flight test both weapons off a B-52 bomber. However, if qualifying challenges occur, Walker said the tests could extend into the early 2020 time frame.

"The bottom line is it is going to happen within a year from now and I think I'll keep my fingers crossed for having some good success stories coming," he added.

In addition to working with the USAF on TBG and HAWC, DARPA has partnered with the US Army on the Operational Fires (OpFires) development programme that is essentially a ground-launched capability with the TBG "front end", Walker explained. As part of the effort, the agency and army have awarded three companies with Phase 1 base effort contracts, which include booster preliminary design and proof of concept testing to demonstrate key elements of the propulsion system.

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