DARPA provides last contract award on current hypersonic programs but will start new hypersonic programs and have two 2019 test flights

DARPA awarded Raytheon a $174.7 million contract today for a program designed to develop technologies that would enable weapon systems to fly more than five times the speed of sound — the third and final contract expected for the agency’s hypersonic-related programs.

According to an Oct. 31 Federal Business Opportunities notice, DARPA awarded Raytheon the $174.7 million for phase two of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, which is one of two hypersonic-related programs that DARPA and the Air Force are jointly working on.

This Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept program aims to “develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile,” according to DARPA’s website. The Tactical Boost Glide program is the other hypersonic-related program that seeks to “develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems,” according to DARPA’s website.

In September, DARPA awarded a $171.2 million cost-plus fixed-fee contract to Lockheed Martin for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept program, according to a Sept. 23 contract announcement. DARPA also awarded Lockheed a $147.3 million contract as part of its Tactical Boost Glide program, according to a Sept. 19 contract announcement.

The Oct. 31 contract award would be the last award under DARPA’S current hypersonic-related programs. The agency is eying future related programs.

The cutting edge of missile technology lies in hypersonics. Traveling at speeds greater than 3,300 miles per hour, precision hypersonic weapons would be much faster than conventional cruise missiles or bombers.

“Hypersonic strike … could revolutionize military affairs by offering more effective, inexpensive and low-risk approaches to counter opponents attempting to foil U.S. forces via anti-access and area denial technology,” said a report released earlier this year by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, “Hypersonic Weapons and U.S. National Security: A 21st Century Breakthrough.”

ARPA Deputy Director Steven Walker said the technology has the potential to provide “a much more capable, much more survivable, much more effective system than we have today at some surprising ranges quite frankly.”

DARPA and AFRL are partnering on two demonstration projects — the hypersonic air breathing weapon, and tactical boost glide, which would use a rocket engine to reach hypersonic speeds before the weapon glided down toward its target.

The first flight for both technologies is slated for 2019. “That’s the path we’re on. We feel good about it,” Walker told reporters after a recent panel discussion.

“These are flight demos and we’re demonstrating all the capability you would need in a weapon system,” he added.

In August, DARPA issued a broad agency announcement about the advanced full range engine program. The aim is to develop a reusable propulsion system that future hypersonic air vehicles could use to conduct ISR missions over heavily defended territory.

The agency is interested in advanced manufacturing techniques to make engine technology more affordable.

“As part of one of our hypersonics studies, we’ve built an engine with additive manufacturing, tested it multiple times in relevant conditions, and it’s doing very, very well,” Walker said. “We think that’s going to be a key to reducing cost of hypersonics for the future.”

Such missiles could be fielded within the next decade, he said. The Defense Department is debating how to proceed with the acquisition process.