U.S. Air Force Aims To Speed Hypersonic Weapon Development

 - July 26, 2017, 4:46 PM
Boeing is one of five companies judged capable by the US Air Force of producing a hypersonic weapon in a timely fashion. It flew the X-51 test vehicle four times between 2010 and 2013.

The U.S. Air Force plans to expedite the development and integration of an air-launched hypersonic strike weapon that would be carried by fighters and bombers. The service is soliciting proposals from a select group of defense contractors and plans to award a contract by the end of the year.

The conventional, precision-guided hypersonic weapon will provide a strike capability against “high-value, time-critical fixed and relocatable surface targets” in contested environments, the Air Force said in a July 21 public notice. It seeks capability statements from interested contractors by August 4.

Hypersonic speed is five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond. According to the notice, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Missile Systems and Orbital ATK “are the only firms that appear to possess the necessary capability within the Air Force's time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.”

Last fall, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) awarded Raytheon and Lockheed Martin contracts of $174 million and $171 million, respectively, to conduct research under its Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program with the Air Force. The intent of that program is “to emphasize efficient, rapid and affordable flight tests to validate key technologies,” Darpa has said.

Under a provision of federal acquisition regulations called “Other Than Full and Open Competition,” the Air Force expects to award a contract for required work through the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2018, covering the months of October through December. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting authority.