WASHINGTON — The Air Force on Thursday awarded Raytheon Technologies a $985 million contract to develop and demonstrate scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missiles.
The contract begins to take the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, or HACM, program out of the prototyping phase and become an operational weapon that can be used in combat. It also reduces the number of companies competing to make the weapon from three to one.
Under the deal, the HACM program will take Raytheon’s prototype and prepare it to be integrated into a fighter aircraft that can then be used in combat, the Air Force said in a release Thursday. Raytheon will also provide two HACMs, the release said.
The Air Force said HACM will be an air-launched ranged weapon that can hit high-value targets in contested environments and be fired from beyond the range of enemy air defenses. The agency hopes to have a HACM weapon that can be used in combat by fiscal 2027.
Hypersonic weapons like the HACM can fly several times faster than sound and can maneuver in flight, making them difficult to track and shoot down for enemies.Read:US economic barometer drops for sixth month in a row, potentially ‘signaling a recession
In a future war against an adversary with advanced air defenses, such as China, the weapon could be used to hit valuable targets well within those defenses and otherwise out of reach. A fighter armed with such a weapon can fly to the edge where the opponent’s defenses can reach and then fire the weapon. Once the HACM’s scramjet pushes the aircraft to approximately Mach 5, it can evade and evade air defenses en route to the target without endangering the fighter pilot.
“HACM is a powerful example of developing and integrating combat capabilities with our partners from the beginning,” Chief of Staff General CQ Brown said in the release. “HACM will provide our commanders with tactical flexibility to deploy fighters to hold high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk while preserving bombers for other strategic targets.”
The contract marks the end of more than a year of competition between major defense contractors to prove their concept will work.
The Air Force and Australia teamed up in 2020 to develop air-breathing hypersonic cruise missile prototypes under a bilateral project agreement called the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment, or SCIFiRE.
In June 2021, the Air Force awarded SCIFiRE 15-month contracts to Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin to complete their preliminary designs for a hypersonic cruise missile.Read:Activist investor pushes Kohl’s to oust its CEO and chairman
The Air Force said in Thursday’s publication that the US and Australia will continue to work together on the design and development of HACM under the SCIFiRE agreement.Read:United Airlines Holdings Inc. stock falls Friday, underperforms market
Part of this continued collaboration is the use of Australia’s test infrastructure for HACM’s first all-up flight tests.
A lack of sufficient infrastructure to test hypersonics has been a major barrier to development of these weapons in the United States, industry officials told Pentagon leaders earlier this year. Lawmakers and DoD officials have been trying to expand US testing capabilities to resolve this.
Stephen Losey is the air war reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover US Air Force operations.