WASHINGTON — DARPA has given its first contract to begin building a hypersonic weapon, a major step forward in the Pentagon’s effort to catch up to Russian and China in the quest for hypersonic primacy.
Raytheon announced it is receiving $63.3 million to work on DARPA’s hypersonic tactical boost glide weapon. DARPA confirmed the contract in an email Wednesday to TMN.
The hypersonic Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program is a joint DARPA/Air Force project to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems. “In a boost glide system, a rocket accelerates its payload to high speeds. The payload then separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination,” DARPA said in an earlier post on its web page.
DARPA said the program includes both ground and flight testing.
DARPA is the Pentagon’s research and innovation wing. It stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds must achieve at least Mach Five, the speed of sound.
Many independent analysts believe China is far ahead of the U.S. in hypersonics, with Russia also making significant progress. Last year the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, said China had launched “several dozen successful hypersonic missile tests that Washington cannot ignore.”
In August, China announced the test of a hypersonic aircraft that successfully reached a top speed of Mach 6 — six times the speed of sound, or 4,563 miles per hour.
Last fall, DARPA announced that it was progressing in its quest to develop ways to guard against hypersonic weapons, such as aircraft and missiles. The project, called Glide Breaker, is focused initially on combating the growing threat of Mach 5 missile attacks.
Raytheon announced the contract on Tuesday.
“This latest contract adds to Raytheon’s growing number of hypersonic weapons programs,” Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice-president, said in the news release. “Raytheon is working closely with our customers to quickly field these advanced weapon systems and provide our nation’s military with the tools they need to stay ahead of the escalating threat.”
In October 2016, Raytheon won a $174.7 milllion contract from DARPA to develop the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept. That project has not been completed.