Aerojet Rocketdyne to Develop Propulsion Tech for DARPA Glide Breaker Hypersonic Defense Program

Aerojet Rocketdyne has been awarded a contract worth up to $19.6 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop enabling technologies for an advanced hypersonic defense interceptor known as Glide Breaker.

“Advancing hypersonic technology is a national security imperative,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “Our team is proud to apply our decades of experience developing hypersonic and missile propulsion technologies to the Glide Breaker program.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies both solid-fueled and air-breathing propulsion systems for hypersonic flight. The company provided both types of systems for the joint Air Force-DARPA-NASA X-51A WaveRider, which completed the first practical hypersonic flight of a hydrocarbon-fueled and -cooled scramjet-powered vehicle. More recently, the company successfully completed a series of subscale propulsion-system test firings as part of DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program, which is an effort to develop a ground-launched hypersonic missile for tactical use.

DARPA Glide Breaker Program

The DARPA Glide Breaker program began in 2018 to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable defense against hypersonic systems. Key aspects of the Glide Breaker program are classified.

According to DARPA, the Glide Breaker program intends to advance the United States’ means to counter hypersonic vehicles. The effort aims to develop and demonstrate a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere.

DARPA had unveiled a concept art of the interceptor portion of Glide Breaker for the first time at its D60 Symposium, in Sept. 2018. The image showed a hard-kill interceptor engaging with an enemy hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).

DARPA Glide Breaker Concept
Rendering of DARPA Glide Breaker hard-kill interceptor engaging with an enemy hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). DARPA Photo.

Hypersonic Threats from Russia and China

The U.S. is pursuing multiple programs to develop new advanced interceptors capable of destroying hypersonic threats in light of developments of new hypersonic missile systems by Russia an China.

In 2017, China conducted a flight test of a new series of ballistic missiles, named DF-17, with a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). In August last year, China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) has conducted a test launch of its Sky Star-2 waverider hypersonic flight vehicle at the northwest test range.

Russia has unveiled the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Dagger), an air-launched version of the Iskander quasi-ballistic missile, and Avangard (also called Objekt 4202, Yu-71 and Yu-74) hypersonic glide vehicle.

The Kinzhal missiles are carried by the MiG-31K supersonic interceptor aircraft, while the Avangard glide vehicle are carried as an MIRV (Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicle) payload by UR-100UTTKh (SS-19 Stiletto), RS-26 Rubezh (SS-X-31) and RS-28 Sarmat (SS-X-30) super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and can deliver both nuclear and conventional warheads.

Other U.S. Hypersonic Missile Defense Programs

The other U.S. hypersonic defense programs are Hypersonic Defense Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS) program and the Hypersonic Defense Weapon System (HDWS) program, both managed by U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The Draft Request for Prototype Proposal (DRPP) for the RGPWS program was released on Jan. 28. For the HDWS program, 21 proposals were selected for concept definition studies in September 2018, out of which five were down-selected in September 2019 for the next phase. The selected proposals are Lockheed Martin’s Valkyrie and Dart concepts, Boeing’s Hypervelocity Interceptor (HYVINT) and Raytheon’s SM-3 Hawk, along with a Raytheon’s second proposal based on the directed energy system.

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