Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program is a joint Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds—five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond—offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide a significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance.

The HAWC program intends to emphasize efficient, rapid and affordable flight tests to validate key technologies. The program plans to pursue flight demonstrations to address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars—air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability.

Technologies of interest include:

+ Advanced air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight
+ Hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise
+ Approaches to managing the thermal stresses of high-temperature cruise
+ Affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are developing Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept demonstrators for the program. Lockheed Martin’s HAWC demonstrator is powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine while Raytheon’s demonstrator is powered by a Northrop Grumman scramjet combustor.

The HAWC program is several months behind an original schedule that called for the first flight in 2019.


September 2019: Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract modification to provide continued support for a research project under the DARPA/U.S. Air Force Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) Phase II program.

June 2020: Aviation Week reported that a hypersonic missile being developed under the HAWC program was destroyed in a test accident.

According to the report, the scramjet-powered missile is believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive carry flight test. The B-52 Stratofortress bomber, which acted as the carrier aircraft, was thought to be from the USAF’s 419th Flight Test Squadron (419 FLTS) at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California.

The Aviation Week report said that the Lockheed Martin HAWC variant is believed to be involved in the recent incident.

September 1, 2020: DARPA and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) announced successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).


DARPA-USAF Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)
Artist’s concept of DARPA-USAF Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) hypersonic missile demonstrator. DARPA Photo.
Lockheed Martin High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW)
A rendering of High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), a hypersonic conventional strike missile being developed by Lockheed Martin.
Raytheon-Northrop Grumman Hypersonic Missile Concept
Raytheon-Northrop Grumman Hypersonic Missile Concept

Updated: September 2, 2020