HAWC Program Success Advances Hypersonic Weapon Development
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has successfully carried out its fourth and final test flight of its Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) vehicle.
The HAWC test vehicle was launched from a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress aircraft, where its rocket booster was activated and the vehicle was propelled to a speed that triggered the ignition of its scramjet engine. The HAWC vehicle flew for over 300 nautical miles (556 km) and reached heights higher than 60,000 feet (18.3 km), according to a statement by DARPA. However, the agency did not disclose the location or date of the test, only mentioning that it took place in January 2023.
DARPA has announced that the HAWC program has met all of its objectives and has now been completed. The agency plans to utilize the data gathered from the four test flights with a new program called “More Opportunities with HAWC (MOHAWC)” in order to construct and test more hypersonic vehicles, with the ultimate goal of developing a craft that can be used by the U.S. military.
Lockheed Martin, who partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop the HAWC weapon that was tested in the recent flight, issued a statement praising the program’s success. John Clark, Vice President of Lockheed Martin, stated in the statement that both flight tests launched from an operational aircraft and matched performance models and predictions, contributing to the affordable and rapid development of future hypersonic weapons.
The U.S. military is celebrating the success of the HAWC program. Walter Price, an Air Force deputy for the HAWC program, said in DARPA’s statement that the recent flight test marked the most successful hypersonic air-breathing flight test program in U.S. history and the things learned from HAWC will certainly improve future U.S. Air Force capabilities.
The main technology being evaluated in the HAWC program is its air-breathing scramjet engine. A scramjet is a type of jet engine in which combustion takes place while the air is moving at supersonic speeds. Unlike traditional jet engines that use turbines to compress air, scramjets use their speed and shape to achieve compression. This design is more efficient than other jet engine types and can reduce overall weight by eliminating moving parts like turbine blades.
The information collected from the HAWC tests will be utilized to further enhance hypersonic vehicle designs in the MOHAWC program. The follow-up program, as stated in a 2022 C4ISRNET report, will aim to improve scramjet propulsion technology, decrease the size of subsystem components, and optimize manufacturing methods.
The completion of the HAWC program is another accomplishment in the U.S. military’s efforts to create an operational hypersonic weapon. In December 2022, the United States Air Force declared that it had successfully fired its first fully operational hypersonic missile, which achieved all its testing goals.