US military sources informed Aviation Week that a scramjet-powered missile, still in development under the joint USAF-DARPA Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program, exploded after becoming separated from a B-52 aircraft of the 419th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Additional details surrounding the hypersonic missile’s deployment remain under wraps.
“Details of those flight demonstrations are classified,” said a DARPA spokesperson to Aviation Week. The USAF directed any related questions to the research agency.
“The description could suggest the payload inadvertently detached from the B-52 in flight, rather than during ground tests or on the runway,” the outlet noted, citing sources relevant to the matter.
It was also divulged that “pieces of the instrumented test article were recovered after the accident,” which may have specifically landed at the Precision Impact Range Area of Edwards AFB, or perhaps at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake - a nearby installation.
USAF acquisition executive Will Roper expressed in late April that the service has increased its focus on hypersonic missile research and intends to set up a new prototyping program to possibly develop a hypersonic - or supersonic - cruise missile. The service has ordered a market research study on the matter.
“One of the reasons I’m excited about starting a hypersonic cruise missile program is that we will have different suppliers; it’s a very different technology,” Roper explained during the April 30 press briefing.
He highlighted that scramjet technology research related to the delayed HAWC program - originally slated to conduct its maiden flight in 2019 - “has come a long way” and has proven to be “much more mature and ready to go” than previously presumed.
Due to budget constraints, the USAF settled on Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile over the defense contractor’s costlier Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon earlier this year, according to Roper.
It was announced by the Government Accountability Office earlier this month that the USAF will procure at least eight of the ARRW missiles ahead of live-fire flight testing slated to begin in 2021.
As of late, the ARRW program has seen a 40% cost increase and, like the HAWC program, is around a year behind schedule.