DOD Tests Its Own Hypersonic Missile

DOD Tests Its Own Hypersonic Missile

( – The US has moved a step closer to having a hypersonic missile capability, after the latest successful test flight of a powerful new weapon. Russia and China have been developing these weapons for several years, but America is catching up fast. Now the race is on to turn the successful prototype into an operational weapon system.

On January 30, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the fourth and final successful test flight of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). The missile was launched from a B-52 bomber and flew more than 300 nautical miles (350 miles) at a height of over 60,000 feet — and a speed of more than 3,800mph. According to a senior officer on the program, the test “added an exclamation point” to the HAWC project, as reported by DARPA.

Hypersonic weapons travel at more than five times the speed of sound, giving them three big advantages over older, slower cruise missiles. First, they can cover distance faster, meaning they can hit targets before they have a chance to move away. Secondly, they’re much harder to intercept. Close-in anti-missile defense on US Navy ships is provided by the Phalanx CIWS system, which has a range of around 1,625 yards; Russia’s SS-N-33 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile flies at 6,900mph, giving CIWS less than half a second to shoot it down before impact. Finally, hypersonic missiles travel so fast that they might not even need a warhead; their own kinetic energy can destroy the target (HAWC is designed to work this way).

Potential enemies already have hypersonic weapons in service. The Russian Navy has taken delivery of at least one batch of warshot Zircon missiles and armed a frigate with them, while China has armed anti-ship ballistic missiles with the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle to target US aircraft carriers and has successfully test-fired the YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missile from a destroyer. The UK and France are collaborating on the Perseus hypersonic cruise missile, and India’s Mach 8-capable BrahMos-II is due to start flight testing soon.

Now, the US is firmly back in the hypersonic missile race, and Raytheon has already been given a billion-dollar contract to turn the HAWC demonstrator into the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile. The Defense Department hopes it will be in service in around four years.

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