The US Air Force has selected a joint bid from Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Northrop Grumman to build a new hypersonic weapon.
The Department of Defense (DoD) said Sept. 22 that the pair won a $958 million contract to manufacture the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) for the Armaments Directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Raytheon and Northrop outperformed competing bids from Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Funding provides for “design, development and first delivery” for HACM, according to a DoD contract announcement.
Raytheon and Northrop confirmed the award on September 23.
“Raytheon Missiles & Defense continues to be at the forefront of hypersonic weapon and air-breathing technology development,” said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon’s business.
The company describes the HACM as an air-breathing, scramjet-propelled munition. Scramjet engines use high flight speeds to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion, a process that Raytheon says enables sustained flight at supersonic speeds — commonly considered Mach 5 or greater.
hypersonic weapons such as HACM can reach their targets faster than comparable traditional ICBMs, potentially allowing them to evade missile defense systems.
“Our scramjet propulsion technology ushers in a new era for faster, more survivable, and high-performing weapons,” said Northrop.
The companies have been working together since 2019 to integrate Northrop’s scramjet engines with Raytheon’s air-breathing hypersonic weapon designs.
HACM is being developed in conjunction with the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment, a joint US-Australian project.
The Department of Defense is conducting several parallel hypersonic weapon development programs, including the Lockheed-manufactured Rapid Response Weapon airborne and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded effort involving a Lockheed hypersonic vehicle and an Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet.
The Pentagon also announced in August $2 million in grants to support hypersonic research at several US universities.
The attempt to develop such platforms comes as military leaders in Washington are increasingly warning that the US is lagging behind in operational hypersonic capabilities — particularly as rivals such as China and Russia claim to have manufactured hypersonic weapons.
The US top military officer, US Army General Mark Milley, in October 2021 described a Chinese test of a hypersonic weapon as “very concerning” and compared it to the surprise launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union, which accelerated the Cold War space race.
However, Milley has downplayed the impact of these weapons on the war in Ukraine. During recent testimony in Congress, he described that hypersonic weapons have had no “significant or disruptive effect” on this conflict.
While the actual capability of such weapons remains largely uncertain, military strategists warn that the relatively cheap missiles give China a potential advantage over the US.
Mark Cancian, a former US Marine Corps officer and current researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, conducts war games to understand how a conflict over Taiwan might unfold. He tells FlightGlobal that US Air Force bases in Japan and Guam and US Navy aircraft carriers will be extremely high-value targets for China during the opening hours of such a conflict.
Hypersonic weapons pose a potentially significant threat to these assets, which Cancian said would be essential to any US-led military campaign near the Taiwan Strait.