Darpa, the science arm of the US military, recently announced successful testing of what it called a Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) missile.
The US military has a number of hypersonic weapons programs in the navy, army, and air force, but most are still in development and highly secret.
However, the known programs are all more conventional hypersonic weapons that strike at high altitudes, rather than the orbital bombardment systems that strike from space that the Chinese were revealed to have developed this week.
The only American hypersonic weapon known to have been successfully tested is the Air Force’s GM-183 ARRW, designed to be launched from a large bomber.
It then accelerates to hypersonic speeds of up to 15,345 mph using a supersonic combustion ramjet to strike targets within 1,000 miles. Donald Trump referred to a “super duper missile” during his tenure and it is believed to be the ARRW AGM-183.
The Navy-launched submarine, the long-range hypersonic weapon, is expected to be operational by 2023 and will have a range of 1,725 miles.
Darpa, the science arm of the US military, recently announced successful tests of what it called a Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) missile but kept details such as range, speed and the payload.
The missile uses oxygen from the atmosphere as part of its fuel – marking the first successful test of this class of weapon since 2013.
The missile, which is built by Raytheon, was dropped from an aircraft just “seconds” before Northrop Grumman’s scramjet engine started, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said.
The engine works by compressing incoming air with hydrocarbon fuel to create a fast-flowing air mixture capable of reaching over 1,700 meters per second, or five times the speed of sound.
Earlier this year, a test of a US Air Force hypersonic missile was abandoned after it was unable to complete its launch sequence.
On March 19 of last year, the Pentagon flight tested a hypersonic glider vehicle at its Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. He considered the test a success and “a major step toward the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic combat capabilities in the early to mid-2020s.”
Unlike Russia, the United States claims not to be developing hypersonic weapons for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, an American hypersonic weapon will need to be more accurate, which will pose additional technical challenges.
In 2004, NASA’s experimental X-43 hypersonic unmanned aircraft reached 7,366 mph (Mach 9.6) using a scramjet engine, setting the current record.
In 2019, DailyMail.com reported that the missile developed by Raytheon and Northrop Grumman would use an engine made by a 3D printer.
Last year, DARPA said it was working with Aerojet Rocketdyne on a nearly $20 million project to develop a hypersonic rocket capable of intercepting enemy missiles in flight.
Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine and has the hypersonic nuclear-capable Avangard missiles
Russia recently launched a hypersonic missile, the Zircon, from a submarine, and since late 2019 the hypersonic nuclear-capable Avangard missiles have been in service. The Avangard can travel up to Mach 27, changing course and altitude.
The range of the Russian hypersonic missile, the Zircon, is 621 miles with a speed of 9,800 mph.
But the missile flies below the atmosphere and uses fuel to propel itself to hypersonic speeds rather than Earth orbit.
Earlier this month, Russia announced that it had successfully tested Zircon from a nuclear submarine for the first time.
The 6,670mph weapon hit a target in the Barents Sea according to Moscow’s Defense Ministry, which says the missile is capable of reaching speeds of Mach-9 and evading all Western defenses .
Russia said it had completed flight testing of the new-age missile from a frigate – Admiral Gorshkov – and a coastal mount, but had not previously launched it from of a submarine.
Zircon has been identified by state-controlled Moscow television as Vladimir Putin’s weapon of choice for wiping out America’s coastal cities in the event of an atomic conflict.
He said the missile was “truly unprecedented in the world”, and the Russians boasted that it was “unstoppable” to Western defences.
Putin first announced the development of a range of new hypersonic weapons in 2018, insisting they would be able to hit almost any point in the world and evade a state-built missile shield -United.
The Zircon is due to enter service next year and will first be deployed via the Admiral Golovko frigate which carries important stealth technology.
A key use for the missile is to take out enemy ships and reports suggest its maximum range is between 188 and 620 miles.
But there have been unconfirmed reports its true range is around 1,200 miles.
The design and development of the missile system was carried out in great secrecy, and Putin warned that foreign spies had tried to steal its secrets.
It is one of many hypersonic missiles deployed by Russia, including the 188-ton Sarmat – known in the West as Satan-2 – which will be the biggest beast in Russia’s nuclear arsenal, due to tests in the fall with a deployment planned for the next year.
In May, Russia said it tested three “invincible” “Satan 2” hypersonic missiles that some say could wipe out areas the size of England and Wales.
China launched the dummy weapon into space aboard a Long March 2C rocket (pictured) in a test in mid-August which it did not disclose at the time and did not was only revealed over the weekend by security analysts tasked with determining its purpose
The hypersonic orbital bomber system that China tested in August is said to have reached a top speed of 21,000 mph and would strike from space.
The basic concept of China’s “new” weapon – putting a warhead into orbit and flying it around the world before hitting a target – was first developed by the Soviets in the 1960s.
Called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS, it was developed to evade powerful US radar arrays and missile defense systems.
These systems work by detecting launches of ICBMs – very long-range missiles that can be fitted with nuclear bombs – and tracking them through space, then firing at the warheads as they descend in hopes of killing them. detonate before they hit their targets.
This is possible because ICBMs and their warheads follow a predictable trajectory that rises high into space, making them relatively easy to spot and allowing defense crews to calculate where they are aiming so they can be taken from the sky.
FOBS aim to negate these defenses by firing their warheads along a much flatter trajectory – aided by Earth’s gravity.
This means that they fall under the scope of many radar detection networks and are more difficult to track. It also makes warheads much harder to shoot down because their trajectory is harder to calculate.
Using orbit makes a warhead’s range potentially unlimited, meaning it can be fired at its target from any direction. This avoids radar systems that usually point to a fixed point in the sky – in the American case, above the North Pole.
Meanwhile, China also unveiled a medium-range hypersonic missile, the DF-17, in 2019 that can travel around 2,000 kilometers and can carry nuclear warheads.
In October, China deployed the DF 17 missile to coastal areas in preparation for a possible invasion of Taiwan.
The weapon has a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 7,680 miles per hour (12,360 km/h) – or 10 times the speed of sound – while while carrying a nuclear warhead, according to previous reports.
It was touted as “a death sentence” for aircraft carriers within reach.
Hypersonic missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere – or around 6,200 km per hour (3,850 mph). It’s slower than an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the shape of a hypersonic hover vehicle allows it to maneuver towards a target or away from defenses.
Combining a hovering vehicle with a missile capable of launching it partially into orbit – a so-called Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) – could deprive adversaries of reaction times and traditional defense mechanisms.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), on the other hand, carry nuclear warheads on ballistic trajectories that travel through space but never reach orbit.
China insisted on Monday that the August test was a routine test for a spacecraft rather than a missile.