DERPA, the scientific arm of the US military, recently announced successful tests of what it called the HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) missile.
The US military has a number of hypersonic weapons programs in the Navy, Army and Air Force, but most are still in development and top secret.
However, the known programs are all more conventional hypersonic weapons that strike from high altitude, rather than the space-striking orbital bombardment systems that the Chinese were revealed to be developing this week.
The only known hypersonic weapon that has been successfully tested is the Air Force’s GM-183 ARRW, which was designed to be launched from a large bomber.
It then accelerates to hypersonic speed using up to 15,345 km/h using a supersonic combustion jet to hit targets 1,000 miles away. Donald Trump referred to the “super duper missile” during his time in office, and it is believed to be the AGM-183 ARRW.
The Navy’s long-range hypersonic weapon-launching submarine is expected to be operational by 2023 and have a range of 1,725 miles.
DERPA, the scientific arm of the US military, recently announced successful tests of what it called the HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) missile but kept details such as range, speed and payload secret.
The missile uses oxygen in the atmosphere as part of its fuel – marking the first successful test of that type of weapon since 2013.
The missile, which was built by Raytheon, was released from an aircraft just ‘seconds’ before the Northrop Grumman scramjet engine fired, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said.
The engine works by compressing incoming air with hydrocarbon fuel to create a high-speed air-flow mixture, one capable of reaching over 1,700 meters per second, or five times the speed of sound.
Earlier this year, a test of a hypersonic missile from the US Air Force was abandoned after it failed to complete its launch sequence.
On March 19 of last year, the Pentagon flight tested a hypersonic glide vehicle at its Pacific Missile Range facility in Kauai, Hawaii. He deemed the test a success and “a major milestone toward the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic combat capabilities in the early to mid-2020s.”
Unlike Russia, the United States says it is not developing a hypersonic weapon for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, an American hypersonic weapon will have to be more accurate, posing additional technical challenges.
In 2004, NASA’s X-43 unmanned experimental hypersonic aircraft reached 7,366 miles per hour (Mach 9.6) using a scramjet engine, setting the current record.
In 2019, DailyMail.com reported that the missile developed by Raytheon and Northrop Grumman would use an engine produced by a 3D printer.
Last year, DARPA said it was working with Aerojet Rocketdyne on a nearly $20 million project to develop a hypersonic rocket that could intercept enemy missiles in midair.
Russia has recently launched a hypersonic missile, a Zircon, a submarine and has the hypersonic nuclear capable Vanguard missiles
Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine, and since late 2019 the Avangard missiles with hypersonic nuclear capability have been in service. The Vanguard can travel up to Mach 27, change course and altitude.
The range of Russia’s hypersonic missile, the Zircon, is 621 miles at a speed of 9,800 km/h.
But the rocket flies below the atmosphere and uses fuel to propel itself to hypersonic speeds rather than Earth orbit.
Earlier this month, Russia announced that it had successfully tested the Zircon from a nuclear submarine for the first time.
The weapon at a speed of 6,670 km/h hit a target in the Barents Sea according to Moscow’s Ministry of Defense, which claims that the missile is capable of Mach 9 speed and is able to evade all Western defenses.
Russia said it had completed flight tests of the new-age missile from a frigate – the Admiral Gorshkov – and a coastal cruiser, but it had not previously been launched from a submarine.
The zircon was identified by Moscow’s state-controlled television as Vladimir Putin’s weapon of choice to wipe out American coastal cities in the event of a nuclear conflict.
He declared the missile “truly unparalleled anywhere in the world,” and the Russians boasted that it was “unstoppable” by Western defenses.
Putin first announced the development of an array of new hypersonic weapons in 2018, insisting they would be able to hit almost anywhere in the world and evade a US-built missile defense system.
The Zircon is due to enter service next year, and will be deployed first using the Admiral Golubko frigate, which carries significant stealth technology.
A major use of the missile is to take out enemy ships and reports have suggested that its maximum range is between 188 and 620 miles.
But there have been unverified reports its true range is about 1,200 miles.
The design and development of the missile system was carried out in deep secrecy, and Putin warned that foreign spies were trying to steal its secrets.
It is one of several hypersonic missiles that Russia is deploying, including the 188-tonne Sarmat – known in the West as Satan-2 – which will be the biggest beast in Russia’s nuclear arsenal, due to be tested in the fall with a planned deployment later this year.
In May, Russia said it had tested three “Invincible” hypersonic “Satan 2” missiles, which some said could wipe out areas the size of England and Wales.
China launched the dummy weapon into space aboard a Long March 2C rocket (pictured) during a test in mid-August, which it did not disclose at the time and was only revealed this weekend by security analysts assigned to examine its purpose.
According to reports, the hypersonic orbital bombardment system that China tested in August reaches a maximum speed of 21,000 km/h and strikes from space.
The core concept of China’s “new” weapon – putting a warhead into orbit and orbiting the Earth before hitting the target – was first developed by the Soviets in the 1960s.
Called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS, it was developed to evade radar arrays and powerful US missile defense systems.
These systems work by detecting launches of ICBMs – long-range missiles that can be tipped with nuclear weapons – and tracking them into space, then firing at the warheads as they descend in the hope of detonating them before they hit their targets.
This is possible because ICBMs and their warheads follow a predictable trajectory that rises high into space — making them relatively easy to spot and allowing defense teams to calculate where they are aimed so they can be shot out of the sky.
FOBS aim to negate these defenses by firing their warheads along a much flatter trajectory – aided by Earth’s gravity.
This means they go under the range of many radar detection arrays and are harder to track. It also makes the warheads much more difficult to shoot down because their trajectory is harder to calculate.
The use of a trajectory makes the range of a warhead unlimited, meaning it can be fired at its target from any direction. It helps to avoid Radar systems that usually point to a fixed point in the sky – in America’s case, over the North Pole.
Meanwhile, China also unveiled a medium-range hypersonic missile, the DF-17, in 2019, which can travel about 2,000 kilometers and can carry nuclear warheads.
In October, China deployed the DF 17 missile to coastal areas in preparation for a possible invasion of Taiwan.
The weapon has a maximum range of 2,500 km (1,550 miles) and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 7,680 miles per hour (12,360 km/h) — or 10 times the speed of sound — while carrying a nuclear warhead, according to previous reports.
This has been described as a “death sentence” for aircraft carriers in its range.
Hypersonic missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere—or about 6,200 km/h (3,850 mph). That’s slower than an ICBM, but the shape of a hypersonic glide vehicle allows it to maneuver toward a target or away from defenses. .
Combining a gliding vehicle with a missile that can launch it partially into orbit—the so-called Partial Orbital Bombing System (FOBS)—could strip adversaries of reaction time and traditional defense mechanisms.
In contrast, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carry nuclear warheads on ballistic trajectories that travel into space but never reach orbit.
China insisted on Monday that the August test was routine for a spacecraft and not a missile.