The Pentagon seeks to create a weapon against which even the most modern air defense systems will be powerless
Recently, the American military-industrial company Raytheon received a contract worth almost one billion dollars for the development and testing of the HACM hypersonic cruise missile. It is expected that the promising munition will enter service with the Air Force as early as 2027.
It’s no secret that in the field of supersonic weapons, the Americans turned out to be “behind”. This is recognized both in the White House and the Pentagon. The US’s main geopolitical rivals are well ahead. Russia adopted the supersonic Zircon, the Kinzhal and the strategic Avangard. China also, the DF-17 medium-range solid-fuel missiles. Some of these systems have already received the “baptism” of fire. Specifically, in March the Russian Air Force destroyed an underground ammunition depot in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine with a Kinzhal.
In the US, many programs are implemented simultaneously. Among the most promising projects is the HACM (Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile). It is a supersonic cruise missile, with a ramjet engine capable of accelerating up to six thousand kilometers per hour in the upper atmosphere. The range is unknown, but the Americans emphasize that they will surpass in this indicator, the longer-range air defense systems of Russia and China.
“We view combat aircraft, primarily fighters, as the primary carriers of HACM,” U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown told reporters. “The new weapon will allow our commanders to plan combat operations much more flexibly, close to the rear of the enemy, while specialized bombers will solve strategic difficulties,” he said.
Brown did not specify which aircraft it was. Apparently, these are fifth-generation F-35 and F-22 fighters. The Pentagon is convinced that it is the least vulnerable to a potential enemy’s air defenses. However, stealth has never been tested in real combat by modern anti-aircraft missile systems.
The HACM project is an economic “breather” for the American defense industry. Last June, the Pentagon awarded three 15-month contracts to develop preliminary hypersonic cruise missile designs to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Rautheon. The latter was chosen for the manufacture of prototypes. US allies also participate in the program. In particular, Australia promised to provide infrastructure for testing.
HACM is one of two flagship programs in the air force, which should culminate in the creation of combat models. There is also Lockheed Martin’s ARRW missile. Supposedly, this product will be able to reach speeds above Mach 20. The missile is designed to destroy ground targets, ships and targets that change position rapidly. The primary carriers of the ARRW are the B-1B strategic bombers.
The promising missiles were scheduled to enter service as early as 2022. However, test failures have pushed the deadlines back. In 2021, the US Air Force conducted three tests of a rocket booster on a prototype of a promising missile. They all failed. During the first flight tests in April, the product did not separate from the aircraft. In July, the rocket engine failed to fire. In December, the ARRW again failed to launch.
The tests ended successfully only in May 2022. Additional tests are coming, which means that the missile will not be put into operation in the near future. However, the US Air Force requested funding for the first 12 ARRW missiles. According to Pentagon officials, production will be fast, as many items are created using 3D printing technology!.
There are plans for hypersonic missiles and other branches of the US Armed Forces. Thus, for the ground forces, a long-range hypersonic missile system, the LRHW (Long Range Hypersonic Weapon), is being created. There will be several main products. The main thing is the AUR (All-Up-Round) missile in the transport and launch container, which carries the C-HGB (Common Hypersonic Glide Body) warhead. A launcher and a mobile array command station are also being developed.
The C-HGB belongs to the class of hypersonic missile systems. The launch vehicle accelerates it to operating speed, after which it begins an independent gliding flight. According to the Pentagon, the C-HGB block will be able to achieve at least Mach five. They are not called more accurate values. The range, according to Breaking Defense, citing a representative of the US military, will exceed 2775 kilometers.
This makes it possible to perform the LRHW complex, in the class of medium-range missiles until recently banned by the INF Treaty. They want to deploy the first system in combat units as early as 2023. In the future, Lockheed Martin specialists plan to develop a launch option from ships and submarines. It is expected to be operational in 2025.
The LRHW’s main competitor in the US Navy is the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, supersonic instantaneous global strike missiles. According to the command of the US Navy, this product will allow the military to strike any target on the planet in less than an hour after receiving the appropriate order.
New missiles are to be installed on Virginia-class nuclear submarines. The Pentagon hopes to receive the first serial samples by 2024, nuclear submarines will be converted for them by 2028. Up to 65 CPS will be installed on each submarine of the Block V series. In addition, these missiles are considered the main ones for the latest Zumwalt class stealth destroyers.
However, here too the American gunsmiths faced a series of problems. In June, the US Navy failed tests as the product was unable to launch from the carrier due to an engine failure. This is the second failure, the first being in October 2021 when a prototype rocket crashed into the sea for unknown reasons shortly after launch.