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US Conducts Secret Test Of Lockheed Hypersonic Missile

The United States conducted a secret test of Lockheed Martin’s Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC, missile last month, it has been revealed. The hypersonic missile was launched successfully from a B-52H bomber off the west coast of the U.S., but officials decided to keep the test under wraps, apparently in response to growing tensions with Russia.

This is the first time that a test of the Lockheed Martin HAWC, successful or otherwise, has been announced but that’s not to say there haven’t been others in the past that remain classified. Also, the missile is not to be confused with a rival HAWC design from Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, for which a successful test launch was announced last September. Here, again, it’s unclear if that was actually the first such test.

In this latest test, the Lockheed Martin missile was accelerated to high speed by its booster stage before successfully engaging the air-breathing scramjet which propelled it to a speed faster than Mach 5 “for an extended period of time.”

Typically, hypersonic speeds are defined as anything of Mach 5 or above. In the past, the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have said that the missile will use a rocket booster to accelerate to at least that speed, after which the scramjet will ensure it maintains a speed between Mach 5 and 10.

In this latest test, the Lockheed Martin HAWC reached an altitude greater than 65,000 feet and flew for more than 300 nautical miles. The scramjet used in the Lockheed Martin design was developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne and may have been derived from the previous Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 used in the X-51 Waverider, a hypersonic test vehicle that Boeing developed for DARPA and which was flight-tested in the 2010s.

Ahead of the official DARPA announcement, an unnamed defense official revealed to CNN that the secrecy surrounding the Lockheed Martin HAWC missile launch was judged prudent since it was in the run-up to President Joe Biden’s visit to Europe, on which he departed on March 23. The trip included a visit to NATO allies in Europe, as well as a meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister and defense minister in Poland. Against this backdrop, the United States, and many of its allies, continue to deliver significant quantities of arms to Ukraine to assist the government forces in their war with Russia.

The relatively rapid progress made by Russia and China in the field of hypersonic weapons has been a key driver for the United States, with these capabilities — and potential counters to them — increasingly being seen as critical in future conflicts. As well as Kinzhal, more sophisticated hypersonic weapons are also being developed by potential foes, including a mysterious Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle and Russia’s Zircon, just to name a couple. The latter is a naval hypersonic cruise missile that has reportedly undergone extensive testing already.

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