Space and Missiles

Industry, U.S. military work on hypersonics and advanced integrated design processes

The Weapon System Effectiveness Technical Committee advances the science and technology of predicting, measuring, evaluating and improving the lethality of weapon systems.

The U.S. Department of Defense launched a common hypersonic glide body in March from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, in Hawaii. During flight test-2, the C-HGB flew to a designated impact point. The test further prepared for the acquisition of the C-HGB for use in two programs, the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon and the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike. The C-HGB was transitioning this year from lab-based production to a Dynetics-led team. (Dynetics was subsequently purchased by Leidos.)

In February, the U.S. Air Force canceled its air-launched Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program, which used the C-HGB. The Air Force said that the cancellation was not due to poor performance but that there was a need to narrow the options of hypersonics weapons. The service said it is focusing on a smaller hypersonics boost-glide munition, the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, built by Lockheed Martin. In June and August, the Air Force completed ARRW captive-carry tests, in which it was carried by a B-52 Stratofortress; an F-15 Eagle also could potentially carry it.

In September, DARPA and the Air Force announced that two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, a scramjet missile with hypersonic speed, completed captive-carry tests. Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin developed the air vehicle configurations as part of the program, which intends to build and demonstrate technologies to advance the development of an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

In October, DARPA kicked off the Symbiotic Design for Cyber Physical Systems program. It introduces artificial intelligence into design tools to help speed the design process. The vision of the program is to expand and accelerate exploration of design spaces by combining the best of human intuitive associations across design domains and machine recognition of statistical patterns in data and exploration of large search spaces looking for optimal solutions. The program aims to transform the human-focused model-based design flows used today to a symbiotic process of collaborative discovery by humans and continuously learning AI-based co-designers. Specific design challenges include a range of aircraft, from small uncrewed aerial vehicles to urban air taxi class vehicles; UAV digital designs will be fabricated as part of the program for demonstration purposes.

Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in an interview in September that the Air Force has fabricated and flown, in secret, a prototype next-generation aircraft as part of the Next Generation Air Dominance program. “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” he said. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

Roper said that a year after completing an analysis of alternatives, the Air Force tested a virtual version of its next fighter and then used cutting-edge advanced manufacturing techniques to construct a full-scale prototype and fly it with mission systems onboard. The integration of systems in the design phase is central to modern weapon system effectiveness.

Industry, U.S. military work on hypersonics and advanced integrated design processes