Air Force and DARPA getting all aspects of hypersonic weapons combat and procurement ready by 2020

The Air Force has teamed with the Pentagon’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to shrink the technology into a hypersonic weapon that could fit on most of the bomber fleet, according to Kenneth Davidson, manager of the hypersonic materials development at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“If you look at the X-51, the size is slightly too big to put it on our current bombers,” he said. “It was made as a demonstrator. There’s no weapon in it. There are no sensors on board for controlling the guidance. So we’re looking at making it more durable, getting the guidance control developed so that it can become a weapon system, developing the ordnance.”

The High Speed Strike Weapon is affiliated with other demonstration projects being developed by DARPA, including the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept and the Tactical Boost Glide, both of which have test flights scheduled for 2018 or 2019.

“Our goal is to make sure the Air Force has the knowledge in 2020 or over the next five years to be able to make acquisition decisions using this technology,” Davidson said. “Our goal is to provide a capability to stand off, launch these vehicles off the aircraft to hit time-critical dependent targets … And ultimately from a manufacturing standpoint, it’s got to be affordable.”

The ordnance and a guidance system for a hypersonic weapon are under development via two demonstration programs:
the high-speed air-breathing weapon concept (HAWC) and
the tactical boost glide (TBG).

Leugers said the warhead under development for a hypersonic missile is in the 250 lb class, about the size of a small diameter bomb (SDB).

The goal of the tactical boost and glide is to accelerate a weapon to Mach 5 or greater and allow it to glide to its target. Such weapons would have to be highly heat-resistant and maneuverable. TBG could ultimately fly at altitudes of nearly 200,000 ft (about 38 miles or 60 kilometers. The Kármán Line [boundary of the atmosphere and space] is at 100 kilometers.)


The X51 hypersonic demonstrator was too big for most US fighters and bombers and did not have the actual explosives and sensors. The Air Force will shrink some components and integrate systems for a combat ready hypersonic weapon system before 2020