Hypersonic warhead being developed with 3D printed parts in the Hypersonic weapons race

Orbital ATK has been developing Lethality Enhanced Ordnance technology, or LEO. Instead of submunitions, LEO relies on inert projectiles placed inside the warhead. In tests, the Orbital ATK warheads with LEO technology achieved the Army’s stated requirements for area effectiveness, but left behind no unexploded ordnance.

A 50 pound warhead with 3D printed components was recently exploded. The warhead is designed for hypersonic applications but the test did not fly it at hypersonic speed. Three out of five of its major components were made using additive manufacturing. The March 29 test was the first time Orbital ATK has tested a warhead built partially from 3D-printed materials.

In 2016, Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, successfully tested a 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA Langley Research Center. The combustor, produced through an additive manufacturing process known as powder bed fusion (PBF), was subjected to a variety of high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days, including one of the longest duration propulsion wind tunnel tests ever recorded for a unit of this kind. Analysis confirms the unit met or exceeded all of the test requirements. One of the most challenging parts of the propulsion system, a scramjet combustor, houses and maintains stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment.

Russia, China and US race for hypersonic weapons

Defense News reported statements from James Acton, physicist and co-director of the Carnegie Institute’s Nuclear Policy Program.

Russia and China are more focused on nuclear warheads for their hypersonic weapons which require less accuracy on a target to be effective. However, the U.S. wants to be able to hit targets with near pinpoint accuracy, within a few meters of a target.

The U.S. Advanced Hypersonic Weapon traveled about 4,000 kilometers in a test while China has only tested boost-glide weapons at a range of 2,000 kilometers.

Russia has intentions to use non-nuclear capable warheads on hypersonic weapons, which could be threats to penetrate US defenses and its allies.

DARPA has increased for hypersonic weapons development over the last two years. DARPA plans to start flying some of its hypersonic systems in 2019, which promises a lot of tests. DARPA has the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) and the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) programs.

SOURCES- Orbital ATK, Defense News