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DARPA awards contracts for additional HAWC hypersonic weapon upgrades

HAWC rendering
DARPA graphic of the HAWC design

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a follow-on contract to reduce risk for future air-breathing hypersonic systems, July 17.

In a collaborative endeavor, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman Corporation have embarked on a project aimed at integrating manufacturing enhancements into the current HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) design.

The advanced HAWC version will involve the integration of Raytheon’s air-breathing hypersonic weapons with scramjet combustors provided by Northrop Grumman.

This initiative, carried out in conjunction with the DARPA, emphasizes the expansion of the HAWC’s operating capabilities through extensive flight testing and the validation of system performance models.

The airframe and engine configurations closely align with those of the US Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), thus ensuring direct advantages for the ongoing advancements in this field, stated Raytheon in the announcement.

“The HAWC follow-on contract serves as an engine pathfinder program in our new production-ready Hypersonics Capability Center in Elkton, Maryland,” said Dan Olson, general manager and vice president, weapons systems, Northrop Grumman. “Our factory of the future will seamlessly transition our validated propulsion system design into an operationally ready system to support further flight testing.”

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have been partners since 2013 and signed a teaming agreement in 2019 to develop, produce, and integrate Northrop Grumman’s scramjet engines onto Raytheon’s air-breathing hypersonic weapons. In September 2022, the team was selected to develop HACM, a first-of-its-kind weapon.

The team has completed multiple HAWC operational prototype system flight tests, where digital engineering concepts grounded in real-world flight data accurately predicted and increased system performance.

The HAWC vehicle operates best in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, where speed and maneuverability make it difficult to detect in a timely way. It could strike targets much more quickly than subsonic missiles and has significant kinetic energy even without high explosives.