A teaming of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, and Northrop Grumman has been awarded a US$985m (A$1.5bn) contract to develop the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) for the US Air Force.
The contract will cover the system design, development, and initial delivery, the performance of model-based critical design review, qualification, integration, manufacturing, and testing the HACM through to March 2027.
Designed to be launched from tactical fighter-sized aircraft, the Mach 5 HACM is powered by an air-breathing scramjet engine. A Raytheon release describes scramjet engines as using high vehicle speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion, thus enabling sustained flight at hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 or greater. The HACM will initially zoom to a high cruise altitude before dropping to lower altitudes and manoeuvring to its target at hypersonic speeds.
The HACM has been developed in conjunction with the Royal Australian Air Force through the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) joint initiative, a 15-year science and technology research collaboration into hypersonic scramjets, rocket motors, sensors, and advanced manufacturing materials.
The HACM program was run in conjunction with the RAAF, with proposals also received from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It is anticipated that Australia’s Woomera Test Range in South Australia may be a suitable venue for the flight test phase of the program.
In a November 2020 release, US Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Michael Kratsios said, “SCIFiRE is a true testament to the enduring friendship and strong partnership between the United States and Australia. This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability.”
In a 23 September media briefing, Raytheon Missile & Defense’s senior director of advanced hypersonic weapons, John Otto said, “The important distinction (between Raytheon and its HACM competitors was the) traceability of what you’re demonstrating earlier in the program and how it relates to what you ultimately want to field. And I think it’s taking that prototype development approach that really allows us to move out faster and get systems delivered to the field faster.”
In a joint release, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Defense Systems, Mary Petryszyn said, “The Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile creates a new class of strategically important weapons for the US military. Our scramjet propulsion technology is ushering in a new era for faster, more survivable and highly capable weapons.”