Hypersonic weapons have grabbed the attention of the defense industry, with Pentagon Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin calling hypersonic capabilities “the highest technical priority.”
With Russia recently announcing its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle operational, we understand the challenge as the U.S. races to field these advanced hypersonic missile systems. Russia claims Avangard can travel at 27 times the speed of sound and strike “like a fireball,” while China contends its Starry Sky-2 hypersonic glide vehicle can evade existing U.S. missile defense systems.
And it’s not just Russia and China. Technology can proliferate. In the past, other countries have demonstrated their ability to acquire technology and reverse engineer it. Hypersonic weapons are one of the most prolific emerging threats, and the United States must remain ahead of the game in advanced hypersonic weapons development.
During my time at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and most recently at Raytheon, I witnessed some of the great things that can happen when government and industry partner to develop advanced weapons for the good of our country — and we’re doing it again with hypersonics. U.S. lawmakers last year passed a law requiring that hypersonic weapons be operational by 2020; the Department of Defense’s proposed budget through fiscal 2024 calls for upward of $10.5 billion in hypersonic weapons development. Industry leaders are joining forces to tackle the technological challenges involved with hypersonic flight head on.
As to our involvement, Raytheon recently won a contract to develop the tactical boost glide weapon for DARPA and the U.S. Air Force. We signed a teaming agreement with Northrop Grumman to co-develop scramjet-powered hypersonic missiles, which is on track for its first test flight next year. We’re also involved in counter-hypersonics.
In the world of hypersonic weapons, speed and agility are everything. While flying a vehicle at speeds above Mach 5 isn’t new, designing systems to sustain flight and maneuver at those speeds creates unique challenges that need to be solved to ensure success.