Earlier this week, it was announced that the United States conducted another successful test of its Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) sometime in March. This marks this program’s second successful test in a row using two different scramjet systems.
The first successful test was of a Northrop Grumman design that took place last Fall, while the second, more recent test leveraged a Lockheed Martin scramjet. This is an important point, as it seems to suggest that the United States now has at least two functional scramjet designs for weapons applications. Although the US is regularly seen as behind in the modern hypersonic arms race, this announcement may suggest that the US now leads the way in the race to field scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missiles.
Hypersonic may sound like a term invented for a kid’s TV show about superheroes, but it relates specifically to platforms capable of traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or around 3,838 miles per hour. At such high speeds, even the most modern air defense systems in the world pose little threat to these weapons as they close with their targets.
No nation has hypersonic scramjet cruise missiles yet, but America now may be the front runner
The United States has tested scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missiles at least eight times since 2010, with four total or partial successes, one total failure, and two tests that ended due to problems with systems that were unrelated to the scramjet itself (namely a surrogate booster failure in 2010 and a control fin failure in 2012). The US has tested scramjet systems only three times since 2013, with one failure in 2020 and two subsequent successes in 2021 and this year.
These systems represent the most advanced hypersonic missile technology in the world. The only other nation with a publicly disclosed scramjet-powered cruise missile effort at this point is Russia, with its 3M22 Zircon. Russian state media reported successful testing of Zircon in 2021, though how this program will be affected by the severe sanctions and penalties levied on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine remains to be seen.
Hypersonic flight is not a new thing, despite its recent launch into the limelight. Even the Nazi V-2 rocket could break the Mach 5 barrier, and the U.S. even had a hypersonic bomber program in the works before the Soviets launched Sputnik. What has changed, however, is the ability to control flight at this rate of speed to a high degree of accuracy through onboard hardware and advanced software.
Related: Is America really losing the hypersonic arms race?
Modern hypersonic weapons come in two forms: scramjet-powered cruise missiles and hypersonic boost-glide vehicles, also known as Hypersonic Glide Vehicles, or HGVs. To date, the only hypersonic weapons in service for any nation belong to the latter category; hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.
Hypersonic cruise missiles are completely different than boost-glide weapons and are really lumped into the same “hypersonic” category simply because they travel at extremely high speeds and can maneuver.
They rely on an advanced propulsion system called a scramjet for powered flight, rather than gliding at high speeds from high altitudes like a boost-glide vehicle. A scramjet, or supersonic combusting ramjet, is a variation of tried and true ramjet technology that allows combustion to take place with supersonic airflow. Because scramjets are really only efficient at high speeds, these missiles are often deployed from fast-moving aircraft or rely on a different form of propulsion to get them to these speeds.
From there, hypersonic cruise missiles operate much like traditional cruise missiles–at least in theory. In practice, these platforms are far more difficult and expensive to build than traditional cruise missiles.
Scramjet technology has been such a challenging nut to crack in large part because of how tough it is to keep combustion lit with air flowing through the engine at Mach speeds. The nature of this challenge has been described as “trying to keep a candle lit in a hurricane.”
Related: Here are the hypersonic weapons Russia and China have in service
You are all nothing more than keyboard warrior. you run your mouth off and call each other names. I wonder what you would do in front of someone’s face??
Repent now. The end is near.
James Acosta says
The usa has been in the arms race for decades, with budgets that overshowdow at least the next 5 richest countries. The usa is a machine that is contantly developing new technology for its military, nor for your apple and android phone, if you think for a second that russia and china are at toe to toe level with the usa, then u live in an alternative reality.
Richard Vert says
The problem is the vast majority of that huge budget goes to funding the hundreds of bases scattered around the world and to fatten the wallets of all involved . Actual military spending is just a fraction of what we taxpayers dish out .
I’m still tripping on how Nazis had da V2 ticket that broke mark 5 barrier wasn’t that in the 40s? With our budget we should live like the Jetsons. A lot of the jetsons shit we see today. All the weapons and no time spent on love❤️. I think we need to invest on peace and love because when that AI turns into I-Robot and terminator. A race for survival will be are only race the human race.
Ya daddy says
Then we give it away with billions to smaller countries, who then get invaded and overtaken…. Along with said technological weapons.
That’s a huge difference between made in China and assembled in China.
Checkout the inscriptions behind your iPhones : “designed in, USA, assembled in China”
China is really growing fast, but has far less patented technology than America. Please note.
Dick Clark says
France has hypersonic missiles.
Steven Conn says
Zirkon and Kinzhal have been tested successfully at 7-8 Mach, numerous times, and are now operational. Instead we are to believe this post about American lead?
GI Joe says
If Russia can do it on a budget smaller than a single American state, what can the largest economy in the world not do? The USA messed with this last century and then went on to other technology because this wasn’t practical. We’re only messing with it now to keep up the charade.
Aaron A Karcher says
Kinzal is old tech. Im not sure id put this in a category of advanced hypersonic missiles
Russia has tested nuclear capable boost glide vehicles, which are basically the same thing as ICBMS except they release at a lower point and glide there way to there target at supersonic speeds. Considering there nuclear capable, they dont have to be accurate at all. This post specifically refers to Hypersonic cruise missiles that are non nuclear. China, USA, and Russia do not have a hypseronic cruise missile thats operational, however US has 3 successful test of these missiles because another one occured in May. However, no one can know for sure who is in the lead and who has what. But I can tell you it definitely cant be Russia considering there military technology sent into Ukraine so far. Russia will start to lag behind in these advanced technologies considering that the sanctions that have been placed in them which removes there access to processing chips that they get from the rest of the world. Finally, Russia basically developed a different missile, attached it to an ICBM and called it an Hypersonic missile.
Lianne George says
You really need to spell your their and there correctly as there over there doesn’t make sense does it….? ☺️
Not China Taiwan, fool you are
Jose Rizek says
This is true thansk to Bill Clinton Bush Obama and many others presidente, that make them rich, now instead of being thankful to united state for sending company to build junk for us ,they hate us ,and wants to see us destroyed
What are you gibbering about?
Don’t be fooled everyone America’s Military is always 20 years ahead of everybody’s we been had this technology 😂what Russia and China trying to figure out and are both scared to death by is how the hell we blew up them missiles in North Korea 5years ago while they were still on the launching pad
Alternative universe ?
Richard Vert says
I heard back in the 90’s from a friend with a very high clearance that we had operational icbm interceptors that traveled at mach 26 . Blowing up enemy missiles before they left enemy airspace . Who knows .
I know as soon as the US becomes serious they would forge ahead in hypersonics because they had significant experience with maned hypersonic air craft.
Would you really want anything that says “Made in China” everything they made is what we gave them to make and what they have is nothing but copies of our stuff they produce nothing but garbage period we made China rich. Before China was nothing the Technology China has we gave them that tech. US is so far more advanced than you know Russia and China couldn’t hold a candle to the US
Chris Cole says
You are clearly not informed we stole jet engines from the Nazis we have always been behind in technology.Ebery piece of tech iyou own is made in China from your phone to your television too the technology in your car ever wonder why GM is laid off people because we can’t get the microchips needed from China you fool
Sorry but China is trying to develop chips. They don’t have that capability so wrong there. China does steal as much technology as Russia does maybe more cause they have more money
What a delude world you live in.
We gave China the the ideas and the means to manufacture,and they have gone from your so called “cheap rubbish” to buildin high quality items at prices the U.S can’t even touch,so be careful Yankee doodle dandy,remember “pride goweth before the fall”
LOL…OMG…you’re killing me. The US taking the lead? Because of one test flight of a demo, not even something meant for production? Ah, hah,hahhahahah. Look at ARRW, HTV-2, etc and try to say that with a straight face. I take it you don’t realize China has the DF-17 IN SERVICE and Russia has Avangard in service and Zircon close to it? And these are actual weapons not test demos.
You must be a idiot if you think there all showing there true hands on what they really got ,there not going to tell the world what they really have for a weapon u idiot
Back in oct. 2021. I seen it go by at 1230am and I could see the hypersonic jet clear as day when I was parallel with it in the sky. It was so fast with and so mighty. White glow that light up 1/4 the sky and came out the back in a circular glow. thats when I knew it wasn’t something falling in from space. It most had been deployed close to the Dayton,Ohio area which has an airforce base I witnessed it outside Columbus, Ohio. It was traveling so fast that it took maybe 20 seconds or less to go across the the whole sky and 1000 to 3000 ft. High. They had it Beforr ayn other country they just want to act like america is behind so the have the next 30 year cold war which I don’t think will get to see the ending. They need enemies
Chris Cole says
It’s actual facts so who’s the idiot? Ever wonder why we don’t flex on Russia or China because we can’t defend against hypersonic weapons that’s efact yes we monitor them yes they have beat us in most cases
Well by that logic, Russians and Chinese must have even more advanced systems kept in secret?
Reading comprehension is hard.
DF17 and Avangard are not scramjet missiles, let alone cruise missiles. They are just modified ballistic missiles with hypersonic glide bodies. Not nearly as hard to engineer as an air breathing hypersonic cruise missile. Zircon is the only one that compares.
andrew Wegner says
Yes, as the article has pointed out China only has HGV. The US has had that tech for a long time but decided that ballistic missiles were able to achieve the same affects. Russian and China would use these vehicles with nukes because they lack the accuracy that traditional missiles have. That doesn’t add any tactical value. Missiles like DF-17 have to leave the atmosphere to achieve speeds above mach 5 but could still be intercepted by traditional interceptors as long as it is detected.
These scram jet powered missiles are like cruise missiles, but better because they can ravel at a low trajectory and maneuverer around airspaces.
Russia makes a lot of money off of selling their weapons which is why they are always hyping thei weapons. The Armata, checkmate, RF Shtorm are basically just concepts at this point because they can’t afford to produce them. The Russians dagger is just a modified iskander.
I recommend listening to the Modern war institute podcast on hypersonic missiles.
There is a difference saying that you have a missle in service and being able we to hit a target with accuracy above Mach 5. Chinese says alot BS to make them appear great achievers. Remember whatever goes up we can shoot it down.
Matt huckvale says
Fuck China and Russia. I say we bomb them now before it’s too late.
You moron. Russia has 6000 nuclear warheads thats enough to destroy the earth over dozen times. This is what they call Nuclear deterent. F**king boyscouts here.