The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency or DARPA and the US Army Operational Fires are jointly enhancing the country’s air-striking capabilities.
These agencies have given out contracts for designing and developing advanced hypersonic boost-glide weapons systems. The companies that have won these contracts include Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
These lethal systems will have the capability to tear apart the most fortified air defense systems and quickly and precisely target enemy assets.
Hypersonic missiles are named so because they can travel at a speed five times faster than sound, or even more.
Hypersonic air-striking systems are the most deadly and the fastest yet. Cruise missiles usually travel at mach 1 or the speed of sound. Ballistic missiles travel at supersonic speed, meaning they can travel faster than sound.
However, ballistics can follow only a pre-defined path. In contrast, hypersonic missiles, even while flying at mach 5 speed, can be maneuverable during their flight, and the best part is, they can fly at low altitudes. This combination makes their detection near-impossible.
Two Critical Advantages of These Systems
US army major Amber Walker who is the Program manager at DARPA said that these systems will have two critical advantages – precision targeting and speed.
They will be able to strike even long-range targets, and they will inflict damage before the enemy systems can detect them because of their hypersonic speed.
Major Walker added that this was the first step in delivering capabilities in support of the US overmatch. The project aims at developing systems that can fire payloads of various capacities at different ranges.
3-phase, time-bound program
The proposed program will be completed in three phases.
In the first 12-month phase, development and testing of booster rockets will be engaged. These rockets will facilitate thrust propulsion for hypersonic missiles.
The second phase will enhance the rocket designs and make them field-ready, using live and static fire tests. These tests are timed to be undertaken in late 2020.
The final phase will be dedicated to integration of the rockets in the parent weapons systems. This will be followed up with flight tests in 2022.
Hypersonic missiles as an industry
From a commercial context, the hypersonic vertical in the weapons industry is in its nascent stage. Competition, the fundamental catalyst of any industry’s growth, is still missing in this domain.
Market research giant JP Morgan published a report on hypersonic weaponry in September. The research study has concluded that although the uptick is marginal and growth almost missing, the future potential of hypersonic is very promising.
It may not be until 2020 that the industry actually comes into the commercial segment. It predicts that by then, Lockheed Martin will be the market leader.
With even an advanced defense manufacturing hub such as the US in an early stage of adaptation of hypersonic technology, it is understandable that the market will take time to mature. Currently, Russia and China are competing with the US in this industry