back to article DARPA says US hypersonic missile is ready for real world

DARPA announced a second successful test of its hypersonic cruise missile, adding that the weapon, capable of speeds in excess of Mach 5, is ready for real-world use.  DARPA has been testing hypersonic weapons for several years. The program in question, called the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), began in 2016 …

  1. Blitheringeejit
    Mushroom

    Sooo...

    They've tested two completely different designs for one flight each, and consider that this comprises a battle-ready system...?

    I'm no military expert, but this sounds just a trifle optimistic to me.

    <icon because, obvs...>

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: Sooo...

      They've tested two completely different designs for one flight each that they have admitted to, and consider that this comprises a battle-ready system...?

      There, FTFY

      And the answer to that question might well be 'Yes", if indeed they have many more flights logged than they are admitting to.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Sooo...

        Surely they already have these missiles anyway. What else would they use to arm Aurora?

    2. mbiggs

      Re: Sooo...

      @Blitheringeejit

      Quote: "...a battle-ready system..."

      The criteria for "a battle-ready system" are VERY, VERY low.

      (1) F35

      Link: https://www.defensenews.com/air/2021/01/20/the-defense-department-still-isnt-meeting-its-f-35-readiness-goals/

      ....and this is after years and years and billions and billions of dollars.... Will they ever work properly? Who knows?

      (2) Type 45

      Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/royal-navy-ministry-of-defence-russia-pip-tobias-ellwood-b2009369.html

      ....the cooling system for the "advanced" gas turbine power plants fails and leaves a destroyer "dead in the water"

      ....and this is after years and years and billions and billions of pounds (sterling)

      (3) Type 45 (part two)

      ....and the folk at BA Systems/Babcocks who built these failures also got billions more to fix the vessels. Will they ever work properly? Who knows?

      Hah!!....."battle ready".....Lockheed Martin and Babcocks have their snouts in the (taxpayer funded) trough....and they really don't care about "battle ready"!!!

    3. james 68

      Re: Sooo...

      The Americans have been testing hypersonic missiles at the Woomera RAAF test range in Australia since at least 2015 many of which have been openly reported, my guess is that the two mentioned are essentially "final design" concepts or demonstrators from two different manufacturers using the data gained by numerous previous tests.

    4. Porco Rosso

      Re: Sooo...

      An under-lighted aspect of the hypersonic missile development is the chemistry of the propellent.

      and maybe its on that aspect the Russians made the technology gap between us. The " speed " of the flame /reaction of that specific (synthetic ?) fuel mixture is key (even if you slow down the air in the chamber ) and that is really top notch chemistry. (maybe a topic the author can enlighten us more in a next article )

    5. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Sooo...

      but this sounds just a trifle optimistic to me

      The principle of 'testing by the end-user' (AKA 'The Microsoft Way') is clearly alive and well in the military-industrial complex..

      After all, weapons manufacturers need to keep up their bloated profits!

  2. Sin2x

    Hmm, Russian Zirkon can reach Mach 8 and is fully operable. Seem that USA just needed to show that they have __something__ at least.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      But the USA have 2 missiles that can do Mach5 - so that's Mach10 which is 2Machs better

      1. Frogmelon

        My Mach goes up to 11. :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, but...

      Anyone can aim a rocket low and call it a hypersonic weapon. An air breather hypersonic is a whole 'nother animal.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Sorry, but...

        Maybe the Russians stole the technical details from Reaction Engines first and the Yanks were slow to catch up?

        The dark trench coat with dark glasses in the pocket and trilby thanks ----------->

      2. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: Sorry, but...

        An air breather hypersonic is a whole 'nother animal.

        ... and quite a stupid one: a hypersonic missile is basically a small Space Shuttle on top of an ICBM. It's supposed to go up in space, fly ballistic – even once around Earth – and hit it's target while in controlled "glide" down the atmosphere, doing escape maneuvers to avoid interception. Since it's going up into space, the maximum speed can far exceed that of an air-breathing cruise missile. It's both more lethal and more difficult to intercept and easier to do.

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Any evidence for that "fully operable" bit as opposed to the "in testing" that everyone else seems to think is the situation?

      1. Sin2x

        They are in production: https://youtu.be/chKaj_nhesc

        1. Casca

          Because Russia nevert lies?

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Alien

      eh, keep in mind that the Soviet Union (and now Russia) are big on claiming that they can do certain things but do so ONLY to invoke fear. On the other hand, the USA and its allies typically release information on the UN-classified capabilities of a weapon, ship, aircraft, yotta yotta yotta.

      Now... HOW long was it before the stealth fighter and stealth bomber were confirmed? They flew for years around places like Area 51 and were claimed to be UFOs but aside from possible REAL tech that is like a space alien aircraft might be, I would assume that most UFO sightings near test ranges are probably "OURS".

      /me thinking of an old dog food commercial...

      My bomb's bigger than your bomb

      My bomb's bigger than yours

      My bomb's bigger than your bomb

      And it's faster and makes a bigger boom!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        You have to wonder about cooling for a device that's supposed to be both sea-skimming and capable of mach 10. The SR71 Blackbird was capable of acheiving speeds that would start to melt it (even at high altitude) - and that was about mach 4 and a bit. OK, bigger surface area, but also flying at 80,000 feet.

        So I wonder if those claimed ridiculous speeds are when flown in a ballistic flight-path - when anybody can be hypersonic? For example the Kinzhal missile that Russia lobbed at Western Ukraine last week was breathlessly claimed to be hypersonic. But it's just an air-launched version of their normal Iskander tactical ballistic missile. And not exactly super-accurate either. So good enough for attacking large fixed ground targets, but not much use at killing aircraft carriers - which have the distressing tendency to move about.

        This is why Russia has failed to neutralise Ukraine's air defences. Yes they've got massive firepower. But airbases are large, and their missiles aren't quite precise enough to guarantee hitting the important things like planes on the ground or the actual runway. Which means you'd have to fire lots at the airfield. They also aren't accurate enough to hit individual SAM launchers and radars They've got shorter-ranged air launched stuff but that has to be fired from within missile range which they either can't do - or don't want to take the required aircraft losses to do so.

        1. james 68

          Russia = Ouroboros

          Add to that: they have a limited supply of aircraft and missiles and unfortunately for Russia they can't currently build more/repair what they've got because the components and spares were all made in Ukraine. Ooops.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Russia = Ouroboros

            Well, that and the fact that anyone with the technical know how not in the forces has legged it!

        2. M.V. Lipvig Bronze badge

          The SR71 is also 70 year old technology.

          Think about that for a minute. 70 year old tech. It was out and flying before it was "officially" out and flying.

          Surely they've made advances in metallurgy and whatnot it 70 years, with trillions spent.

    5. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      News just in: arms manufacturers like to use wars to sell their wares. Unfortunately for the Russian military machine the Ukrainian show of Mother Russia's almighty weapon wondery* is going that well.

      • the tanks are being taken out by minute men
      • the guided missiles are rarely guided (some of them are going boom before they leave the depot). In fact the best ones seem to be in their navy and there don't seem to be many of those left.
      • the hypersonic ones used were from the display cabinet
      • the aircraft can be taken out by some pretty aged systems
      • they can't manufacture any spares
      • the missile launchers may come with the wrong tyres and are likely to get stuck in mud

      Elsewhere, orders are flooding in for Stingers™, Javelins™, etc. Switchblades™ will presumably be on the list once the Ukrainians are able to deply them (Kherson looks likely) along with their own homegrown loiterers-with-intent. And Turkey can probably sell 10 times more of its drones than it can make; and it will have to get the US permission for components to make more.

      In other words: after years of disappointment with wars against people armed with little more than machine guns, the US arms industry has been able to show what even limited numbers of its systems can do against a supposedly well-equipped adversary. This is probably one of the reasons why Russia has gone all "Chechyna" on the civilans using murder, rape and hunger where weapons have failed.

      * Vlad himself came up with the title, allegedly.

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
        Mushroom

        According to yesterday's reports , the Ukrainians now have 10 anti-tank missiles for every russian armored vehicle on the battlefield.

        I have a very nasty feeling that give the Ukrainians 3 months to survive the initial onslaught, and they'll chase whats left of putin's army back to Moscow.....

        At which point this happens >>>>

        1. Zolko Silver badge

          give the Ukrainians 3 months to survive the initial onslaught

          what might happen is that the initial onslaught is already finished (after 2 months) and now the Russians are digging in and keeping/defending what they have grabbed in the east. In which case anti-tank manpads are useless.

          I have the feeling that the NATO is always 1 step late.

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          The rules change as soon as you go from defensive to offensive strategies, which is why to retake Donbas (and the Crimea) Ukraine is going to need different weapons. To succeed defensively, you just need to survive longer than the other guy. The civilian population will provide support and shelter as long as possible.

          Going on attack and your supply lines quickly become your biggest problem. If you move into enemy territory you also have to know how you're going to deal with the civilian population. Will it cooperate? Or will it need "subdueing"? And feeding?

          There is no appetite in Ukraine for anything other than reclaiming post-Soviet territory and there won't be weapons for anything else. That said, there are no doubt plans and discussions in the Pentagon, Langley and elsewhere for actions in Belarussia, Georgia, Transnistria, et al. And I've no doubt that there are assessments of whether parts of Russian military will turn against the Kremlin if the war continues to go this badly.

          But in the meantime the Russians will continue to shell cities indiscriminately and use what precision missiles they still have as well as possible but also the terrorise the civilian population in occupied terrritory through murder, rape, hunger and torture.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        You forgot:

        The vaunted Russian air defence units seem unable to detect the Ukrainian drones and tend to end up getting extra crispy..

    6. JoeCool

      Russina military equipment

      often wins the spec war, but isn't commensurately effective in combat .

  3. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Devil

    Missile Gap

    The new "missile gap." Next will be a "bomber gap." So 1960's...

    1. Snowy Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Missile Gap

      Or the anti missile missile gap, the counter measure you use to shoot it down has to be going a bit faster

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Missile Gap

        Or just be able to create a debris field in its path. I'd imagine the turning circle on something flying at mach 5+ is quite wide.

        1. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Missile Gap

          I think you'd need quite a lot of debris to halt 5000kg moving at mach 5. That's a healthy chunk of momentum entering your debris field pointy end first.

          1. Blank Reg Silver badge

            Re: Missile Gap

            hitting a hard dense object at mach 5 is likely to put a big hole in their missle, you just somehow need to be able to get enough of them in the way to ensure a collision

          2. My-Handle Silver badge

            Re: Missile Gap

            You'd need a lot of debris to completely halt it, but probably not an awful lot to deal enough damage to make it break up mid-flight. You think what a cloud of gravel is likely to do to a jet engine at hypersonic speeds.

            [Edit: Ninja'd]

            1. Paul Herber Silver badge

              Re: Missile Gap

              hot gravel?

            2. Cederic Silver badge

              Re: Missile Gap

              What if the first 8 inches of the missile comprises ballistic armour. That'll get it through shrapnel and a flock of geese.

              I'm sure the actual weapon designers have already thought about this, as have the people planning how to defend against hypersonic missiles, I'm just feeling that unless a specific control surface takes damage this is likely to be quite hard to stop.

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Missile Gap

                Ballistic armour? Having seen what a stream of molten copper does at these sorts of speed I'm not sure things are actually solid at these sort of impact speeds. I have a feeling a spray of buck shot in front of them would at least upset the steering and possibly cause enough damage to the air intake to prevent the engine working. But then the simple speed of these things and their steerability makes it pretty hard to get in front of them let alone accurately enough to be of much impedance.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Missile Gap

          I imagine that if it needs to make a turn at this speed, it's no longer going where it's meant to, on account of fuel loss. Perhaps it's a thought, high-alt road-blocks? ;)

  4. TaabuTheCat

    Dated?

    I always wonder when I read stories like this how many years ago the press release was written. Hard to believe they would actually be announcing something that is current, but maybe we need to show how far behind we are to get more pork - er, sorry, funding.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Dated?

      It can't have been otherwise the USA could have used it to defeat the Taliban and avoid a humiliating retreat from Afghanistan.

      If they had a hypersonic missile then they would obviously have won.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Dated?

        Of course hypersonic missiles weren't the only way to deal with insurgents and tribal warfare - those 2 new aircraft carriers could also have swung it

      2. M.V. Lipvig Bronze badge
        FAIL

        Re: Dated?

        You assume much here. The US military has had the ability to wipe the floor with the Taliban, just as they did in Viet Nam and Korea. The problem never has been the military, it's always been the political machine giving the orders. The political machine fights wars via public opinion, not war realities. Example - in 1991 (the war I was in) the US military took 3-4 days from "GO" to the gates of Baghdad, but was stopped by President Bush the Elder because he didn't want to upset other Middle Eastern nations that were shocked and dismayed at how quickly Hussein went fron being a top regional military power to hiding in a hole. Iran and Iraq fought each other to a standstill for 7 years, we smoked one of them in 72 hours. If US politicians were not allowed to control the military once a war is declared, then the US military would have won every war it was involved in since WW2. America has always had the military might, but political will sways with the breeze and is a staunch as a saltine before a sandblaster.

  5. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Optional warhead

    The article states that just the kinetic energy of a lump of metal travelling at greater than Mach5 is equivalent to several tonnes of TNT. I recall that during the Falklands conflict one of the UK's ships was destroyed by an Exocet missile whose warhead failed to detonate, it was the heat of the engine and the unspent fuel that set the ship ablaze.

    Technically in order to be a munition, a flying, guided object needs to have a warhead, otherwise it is 'just' a controlled craft, and not subject to arms controls.* one of my former colleagues had a radio-controlled model aircraft, jet propelled, which was so fast he needed a proper runway to fly from as it would quickly escape radio contact when in flight if he couldn't see it.

    *This may no longer be the case, please advise if you know better. Obviously ballistic objects like bullets are legally munitions.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Optional warhead

      In operation Blair Freedom 2 - (this time it's personal), British Challenger tanks fired the concrete filled practice version of their HESH rounds.

      This had the advantage of making holes in the walls of buildings, allowing the infantry to meet new friends - without converting the entire building to rubble.

  6. Kev99 Silver badge

    Two things.

    First, The US had hypersonic missiles in the 1950s. They were Nikes, capable of hitting Mach 4+, and Sprints which hit Mach 10. "Hey, George. Let's reinvent the wheel again and abscond with a few billion mopre from Uncle Sam."

    Second, isn't HAWC what you do when you got crud stuck in your throat?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Were they controllable once launched, either by remote control or onboard systems?

      1. Spherical Cow

        Yes, Sprint was controlled by ground-based radio guidance, which needed a very powerful signal strength to get through the superheated plasma surrounding the missile (because it was travelling so fast at relatively low altitude).

      2. sreynolds Silver badge

        Nikes were guiided to a target so I guess they were controllable. I think t hat the beeb had a good pic on the glide path that could be taken by "hypersonic" missiles. The point is that in the launch phase once ballistic missiles are over the horizon they can be detected and targeted in the space segment and in the long re-entry phase. So when they mean hypersonic they mean something that takes a path closer to the earth like a subsonic cruiise missile only that it stays in the atmosphere below 100km

    2. Sin2x

      These were anti-ballistic missiles, not offensive ones.

      1. James O'Shea

        They were fitted with either half a ton of explosives or a 2 or a 20 kt nuke. There was a Nike station in the Florida Everglades, officially to cover Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. The effective slant range of a Nike Hercules mean that Havana was in range. I'm sure that a 20 kt warhead going off above Havana would have got Fidel's attention.

        And, while on the subject of nukes... There are some who claim that Boy George Bush skipped out on his time in the Air National Guard. His unit, the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, flew F-102 fighters and had responsibility for the air defence of the south east US. Including Florida. (He later moved to an Alabama squadron, also flying F-102s, also tasked with the air defence of the south eastern US.) Typically, F-102s in air-defence configuration carried five Falcon missiles, usually three infra red guided and two radar guided, and one Genie rocket with a 1.5 kt warhead, or six Falcons, three of each. The idea was to use the Genie to break up Soviet bomber formations, and then go hunting survivors with Falcons and then go home, F-102s didn't have a gun. F-102s could get within Genie range of Havana from Alabama; they'd probably need refueling to get there from Texas. I wonder what a few 1.5 kt Genies would do to Havana... Boy George (sometimes) had a nuke directly under his control. Shouldn't those who think that he's stupid, which in comparison to a certain recent ex-Prez he isn't, be happy that he skipped out on the job?

        (Every day that certain recent ex-Prez makes Boy George look better and better.)

        1. sreynolds Silver badge

          Pretty much as slow moving cruise missiles were vulnerable to look-down radars, expect to see these things vulnerable to space based weapons in LEO orbits.

  7. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Next breakthrough

    Hypersonic anti-missile missiles.

    The next one will be ultrasonic missiles.

    Then ultrasonic anti-missile missiles...

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Next breakthrough

      The British Starstreak SAM already hits nearly Mach 4. And that's a shoulder-launched (or tripod launched) man portable surface to air missile. Stick a slightly bigger booster rocket on it and maybe you could go even fast, just not be able to carry it. As it happens that's actually 3 little foot long tungsten steerable darts rather than one missile.

      But actually quite a lot of SAMs already go more than mach 5. As do lots of ballistic missiles when coming down. I think what makes you properly hypersonic is the ability to maintain that mach 5+ speed, rather than just having a booster and then coasting/falling.

      1. mcswell

        Re: Next breakthrough

        What makes a weapon hypersonic is the speed AND the ability to steer. Although I'm not sure how the old MIRVs fit into that--they were independently targetable, but maybe the targeting needed to be done while they were still outside the atmosphere.

  8. Chairman of the Bored

    What the heck was Pershing II then?

    Launched with an IRBM? Check

    Hypersonic? Check

    Guided? Yes - active radar

    Warhead? Hope you've got SPF 1x10^20 lotion on

    I'm struggling a bit to understand why we are having difficulty doing something that was developed and deployed in the 70's and 80's

    1. Steve Crook

      Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

      Largely because it's not even close to what was deployed in the 70's and 80's.

      We can't assume that the US has only just built these. Think stealth fighter or bomber. They were around for years. The U2 would have been kept under wraps had Powers not been inconveniently knocked out of the sky.

      More interesting is what the parallel development there has been of anti missile systems. Are we back to very big lasers or rail guns as the only things that'll knock something like this out of the sky.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

      Pershing II was a ballistic missile.

      The definition of Hypersonic missiles includes their flight path - not a ballistic one.

      Now you know.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

      > I'm struggling a bit to understand why we are having difficulty doing something that was developed and deployed in the 70's and 80's

      MILSPEAK for "We have them too. Or not. We definitely used to have them, and then we said we didn't have them. But now we're not saying we don't have them.

      Kind of like the F-117 being retired and no longer in service. Or not.

    4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

      Chairman of the bored,

      Most ballistic missiles are hypersonic. I think quite a few of the larger surface to air missiles also get above mach 5. But in both cases they have a large booster to get them up to speed, and then coast. In the case of ballistic missiles the really fast bit is done on the way back down.

      Lots of the press don't get this, so don't clearly understand either.

      But a proper hypersonic missile is able to achieve its mach 5 in level flight and then sustain it with its engines, rather than just coasting after being boosted to high speed. Plus they're supposed to be steerable, though I do wonder about that.

      I'm a bit more sceptical of the claims of stuff doing hypersonic speeds at sea-level without melting. The US tests I've read about have been achieving top speed in the upper atmosphere, so you then wonder how much different they are to ballistic missiles in their final attack phase?

      How much is hype and how much is really hypersonic?

      For example if they've got a plasma shockwave in front of them that's impervious to radar (supposed "plasma-stealth") - surely that in itself is detectable? There's an area of superheated plasma moving towards us at mach 10 sir, shall I ignore it?...

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

        The hypersonics flying in the upper atmosphere are below the horizon from the target until they are virtually there.

    5. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: What the heck was Pershing II then?

      "we are having difficulty doing something that was developed and deployed in the 70's and 80's"

      These are the next generation hyperbolic missiles. Personally I don't care what speed the missile that kills me and my family arrives. Send it next month delivery. Better yet, I'll pick up and collect it when it suits me.

  9. TimMaher Silver badge
    Mushroom

    This is about Ukraine

    It is an open letter to Vlad the Impaler to let him know that he is not the only one who can use hypersonics in action.

    1. lotus123

      Re: This is about Ukraine

      I do not think it matters to him. The US is not going to attack Russia or the other way around (hopefully, keeping fingers crossed). And if that happens then ICBMs and subs will do the talking and all becomes irrelevant.

  10. TeeCee Gold badge

    ...Russian military has made additional claims that it has hypersonic missiles capable of traveling 27 times the speed of sound...

    In other news, they also achieved all their objectives in Ukraine.

    In Russia, bullshit is military press release!

  11. Grunchy Bronze badge

    “New arms race,” this technology was shuttered in the 1970s. The fastest missiles will be launched from just offshore, hiding in some submarine.

    Also: who says Russia even has any working nuclear bombs anymore? The USA spends $10 million per warhead, per year, keeping the extremely fickle things in operating condition. Does Russia do that? Unless the charge works pretty much perfectly the yield can easily be reduced by anything up to 20 orders of magnitude.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      > the yield can easily be reduced by anything up to 20 orders of magnitude.

      100Kt of TNT is 10^14Joules

      20 orders of magnitude less than this is 10-6Joules

      1 microjoule is about enough energy to lift a mosquito one mm

      1. Grunchy Bronze badge

        Right, the nuclear detonation tries to last about 1 millisecond, during which 1 neutron hits another nucleus, shaking loose another 3 neutrons that hit 3 other nuclei. The goal is for the nuclear mass to hold together long enough for that to repeat about 20 times or so. So a ‘perfect’ detonation might release 3^20 neutrons (from the initial decay), an imperfect detonation would be somewhat less. How much less? Depends what didn’t “work right.”

        You’re right, 1^20 neutrons going off all at once may not register very much…

  12. Dropper

    Wut?

    Are you telling me they managed to fuse together an 8 year old child hopped up on Easter eggs with a really fast blue hedgehog?

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