US industry completes test flight of scramjet-powered hypersonic missile

Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, completed the first flight test of a scramjet-powered Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) weapon system for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the US Air Force.

During the test, HAWC was carried under the wing of an aircraft before it was released, accelerating to hypersonic flight. According to a September 27 release from Raytheon Missiles & Defense, the test validated the HAWC’s airframe and propulsion system to reach and cruise at hypersonic speeds.

HAWC rendering
The HAWC would provide a hypersonic missile capabilities to the US military, as rivals such as Russia and China also develop such technology. Raytheon Missiles & Defense

Colin Whelan, vice president of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said the test “paves the way for an affordable, long-range hypersonic systems in the near future.”

Scramjet engines use high vehicle speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds – Mach 5 or greater – which is five times the speed of sound. By traveling at these speeds, hypersonic weapons like HAWC are able to reach their targets more quickly than traditional missiles, allowing them to potentially evade defence systems.

Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman signed a teaming agreement in 2020 to develop, produce and integrate Northrop Grumman's scramjet engines onto Raytheon's air-breathing hypersonic weapons.

The agreement enabled both companies to combine their capabilities to accelerate development, with the aim to deliver a prototype system to the US Department of Defense.