Lockheed Martin tests new hypersonic weapon concept for DARPA

Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept by Lockheed Martin for DARPA.
An artist's illustration of Lockheed Martin's hypersonic weapon prototype for DARPA's Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept program. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

A Lockheed Martin hypersonic missile prototype flew at five times the speed of sound "for an extended period" during a recent successful technology test for the U.S. military.

The hypersonic weapons test, which was announced April 5 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), marked the second flight for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program following a September 2021 test by Raytheon Technologies (opens in new tab), DARPA officials said in a statement.

Program officials framed the new flight as a major milestone in the hypersonic program, which aims to conduct military operations at swifter speeds and with higher effectiveness compared to what's currently available.

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"We are still analyzing flight test data, but are confident that we will provide the U.S. Air Force and Navy with excellent options to diversify the technology available for their future missions," said Andrew Knoedler, DARPA's HAWC program manager for the tactical technology office, in the statement (opens in new tab).

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Another artist's conception of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). (Image credit: DARPA)

A press release (opens in new tab) from Lockheed noted the vehicle reached an altitude of 65,000 feet (nearly 19,812 meters), which is double the cruising altitude of a typical commercial flight. The vehicle will "address rapidly emerging threats in the global security arena," John Clark, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said in his company's statement.

DARPA and the U.S. Air Force are jointly working together on funding and supporting the HAWC program. Raytheon and Northrop Grumman together disclosed $200 million in funding for the project in 2019 (opens in new tab), while Lockheed Martin received nearly $1 billion in 2018, according to DefenseNews.com (opens in new tab).

The program is seeking to assess feasibility, effectiveness and affordability across a series of flight demonstrations, and is by no means the first effort by U.S. military officials to work on hypersonic systems, either crewed or uncrewed.

A selection of other programs of hypersonic speeds include the 1950s-era X-20 Dyna-Soar that was designed to launch on a rocket, the FALCON hypersonic program (short for Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States) of the early 2000s and Blackswift, which was later canceled.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace