EGLIN AFB — The Air Force Armament Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base is managing two fast-track programs, which could total more than $1.4 billion, to design and build prototypes of hypersonic missiles capable of traveling up to five times the speed of sound — more than a mile per second.
The work is being done under contracts with Lockheed Martin, a Bethesda, Maryland-based defense contractor. One of the contracts sets a 2021 deadline for U.S. hypersonic missile capability.
The latest contract, awarded Monday, calls for Lockheed Martin to design and develop an "air-launched rapid response weapon" (ARRW) by Nov. 30, 2021. The contract carries a not-to-exceed cost of $480 million, with work slated for Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control division in Orlando.
Monday's contract follows a $928 million contract awarded in April to Lockheed Martin's Space Systems division in Huntsville, Alabama. That contract calls for design and development of "a hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon (HCSW)."
Stand-off weapons can be fired at a sufficient distance to avoid return fire. The HCSW already has acquired the nickname "Hacksaw," based on its acronym.
Lockheed Martin officials offered limited comment on the contracts.
"Our robust experience in high-speed flight has shown us that the addition of hypersonic technology would be the best and most cost-effective solution to addressing potentially dangerous and increasingly mobile threats in the global security arena,” Kaitlyn Arena, associate manager of public affairs and marketing communication for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in an email.
An Air Force News Service story on Monday's contract quotes Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson on the speed of hypersonic weapons development.
"We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the warfighter as soon as possible," Wilson said.
The Air Force effort is being conducted under an agreement with the Navy, Army and the Department of Defense to work cooperatively to develop hypersonic "boost-glide" technology. In a boost-glide system, a missile accelerates its weapons payload to high speed, after which the payload detaches from the missile and glides to its target.
"We must push the boundaries of technology and own the high ground in this era of great power competition and beyond," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told the Air Force News Service.
Russia and China are developing hypersonic weapons. Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his country had already deployed one hypersonic missile. Earlier this month, according to a CNN report, China announced the successful test of a hypersonic weapon.
Armament Directorate officials were not immediately available for comment, but an Air Force announcement explained that each Air Force missile program is on a different path.
"Hacksaw" is combining existing technologies, while the ARRW effort is "pushing the art-of-the-possible," according to the announcement.