The US has tested a hypersonic missile designed by Lockheed Martin for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program, a defense official cited by CNN on Monday has claimed. The Biden administration supposedly kept the trial secret not to antagonize Russia further.
According to the CNN source, the scramjet missile was launched from a B-52 bomber off the west coast and traveled at an altitude of 65,000 feet (20,000 m) for more than 300 miles (480 km). The source did not disclose the speed of the projectile, though it should have been at least Mach-5, which is considered the low range for hypersonic weapons.
It was the second reported successful test under the HAWC program, which is run jointly by the US Air Force and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Last September, DARPA announced it had tested a scramjet missile prototype produced jointly by Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman, without offering any details.
Both variants use a booster stage to speed the projectile up to a point where the main scramjet engine of the missile can kick in. The design is different from Russia’s air-launched hypersonic ballistic missile called Kinzhal, which the country used on the battlefield for the first time days before the American test, according to CNN’s timeline.
The Russian weapon was used on March 18 to destroy a fortified ammo depot in western Ukraine, according to the Russian military. The US downplayed the significance of the deployment, with President Joe Biden stating that it “doesn’t make…much of a difference except it’s nearly impossible to intercept”. The point of reaching hypersonic speed range with weapons is to defeat enemy anti-missile defenses and be able to deliver strikes on short or no notice.