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Two-for-two: US Hypersonic missile passes second consecutive test

A hypersonic missile cruise missile co-developed by Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Northrop Grumman has passed its second flight test in a row. It dropped from an aircraft and accelerated beyond Mach 5, confirming the industry team’s digital design and computer model accuracy.

The test, conducted in July 2022, featured a Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), with minor improvements informed by an earlier successful test in September 2021. The HAWC program is a joint effort of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and U.S. Air Force and is understood to be a technology test bed for a production weapon called the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM). There are two HAWC contractors, Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Lockheed Martin.

The HAWC’s performance in the most recent test was an important milestone in the U.S. Department of Defense’s plan to field weapons such as HACM that travel faster than Mach 5. The Department is expected to down-select a single HACM supplier before the end of this year; the contenders are Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“Advancing our nation’s hypersonic capabilities is a critical national imperative, and this was an important step forward,” said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “Having back-to-back successful flight tests gives us even greater confidence in the technical maturity of our HAWC operational prototype.”

Northrop Grumman designed the HAWC’s scramjet combustor and a portion of the flow path. Hypersonic weapons demand novel design solutions because their speed and maneuverability create challenging operating environments. To develop and validate the system quickly, the company has used digital engineering, specifically modeling and simulation, along with ground testing.

The latest test follows the Raytheon Technologies/Northrop Grumman team’s first-ever flight test of a HAWC missile in 2021. But countless tests have taken place in the digital domain, gleaning valuable data used to help forecast real-world performance.

These digital models, based on real-world flight data, are being used to accurately predict and increase performance as the weapon concept matures.

As fidelity of models improve across industry, so does confidence that a correlation can be made between the two. Digital environments enable engineers to learn faster and iterate more affordably, in comparison to building and flying physical hardware.

The latest tests put the companies on track to deliver an operational prototype system to the U.S. Department of Defense.

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