U.S. Air Force Initiates Effort to Develop New Air-Launched Hypersonic Cruise Missile

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has initiated a new effort to develop a new air-launched conventionally-armed hypersonic cruise missile.

According to a sources sought notice posted on the Federal contracting website, beta.sam. gov, the effort involves “systems integration of a Weapon Open System Architecture (WOSA)-based, solid-rocket boosted, air-breathing, hypersonic conventional cruise missile, air-launched from existing fighter/bomber aircraft into a preliminary design.”

The market research for the effort is being led by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) Armament Directorate under the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC).

The effort involves the use of Digital Engineering (DE) and Model-Based Engineering (MBE) practices for requirements, design, trade studies, and analyses; as well as the use of DE/MBE to accomplish technical planning for qualification, component/subsystem testing, manufacturing, and sustainment of the air-breathing hypersonic cruise missile under representative operational conditions.

According to the notice, the service is seeking capabilities statements from potential sources, including small businesses (SB), 8(a), HUBZone, Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned (EDWOSB), Woman-Owned (WOSB), Service Disabled Veteran Owned (SDVOSB) small businesses, for the effort.

The notice added that the capability statement from potential vendors must demonstrate its capability in various technologies in order to be deemed qualified. This includes sustained air-breathing hypersonic propulsion (ramjet, scramjet, or dual-mode), stable hypersonic aerodynamics, aero-thermal protection systems, solid rocket motors (SRMs), warhead/missile integration, advanced hypersonic guidance, navigation, and control including advanced subsystem technologies and communications, and fighter/bomber weapon integration.

The effort is expected to achieve the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) by the fourth quarter of FY2021.

The Air Force is already pursuing the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) air-launched hypersonic missile effort to accelerate hypersonic research and development.

Rendering of an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) being launched from a B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

In August 2018, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was awarded a $480 million contract by the Air Force to begin designing the ARRW hypersonic missile. This contract is to provide the critical design review (CDR), test and production readiness support for the weapon and is expected to be completed by 2021.

The ARRW is a boost-glide hypersonic system and consists of a rocket booster and hypersonic glider warhead. After being launched from an aircraft, the booster rocket accelerates to high speeds before releasing the hypersonic glide warhead payload which then glides unpowered to its target at hypersonic speeds.

The AGM-183A is expected to be deployed on the Air Force’s strategic bombers. The testing is being conducted on the B-52 Stratofortress bomber. The first captive flight test of the missile was conducted on a B-52 on June 12 last at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

AGM-183A ARRW Captive Flight Test
First captive flight test of U.S. Air Force’s newest hypersonic missile, the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), on a B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft at Edwards AFB, California on June 12, 2019. USAF Photo.

Another effort, called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) for which a $928 million contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in April 2018, was canceled by the Air Force.

The Air Force was forced to choose between funding HCSW and ARRW because of budget pressures and opted to keep ARRW due to it being a more “unique glide body design” compared with HCSW, which was similar to hypersonic weapons under development by other services, according to the Defense News report citing Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

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