The awe-inspiring missile would deliver deadly payloads at five times the speed of sound.
Mach 5 Missiles
Defense contractor Raytheon just signed a $63.3 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a "tactical boost glide" (TBG) hypersonic weapons program.
The weapon system could reach hypersonic speeds of up to five times the sound barrier thanks to a rocket engine. A payload will then glide the rest of the way to the intended target — completely unpowered, without the ability to accelerate again. But operators will be able to maneuver it from a distance.
"We have lost our technical advantage in hypersonics," Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Military Times — perhaps a nod to the fact that hypersonic weapons are already being developed and even tested by both Russia and China.
The TBG system could "offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems," according to DARPA's website.
In October 2016, Raytheon signed a separate $174.7 million contract with DARPA for the development of a "Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon" concept to explore the possibility of an "air-launched hypersonic cruise missile," according to DARPA. It was also meant to offer military operations a longer range for future missions with shorter response times.
Previous DARPA projects have explored very similar concepts. For instance, the Falcon (Force Application and Launch from Continental United States) Hypersoncic Technology Vehicle (HTV) was an unmanned military aircraft prototype that was first announced in 2003. A second iteration, the HTV-2, first embarked on a test flights in April 2010, but the mission had to be cut short when the vehicle lost ground contact.
But the U.S. command is far from giving up.
"We haven’t lost the hypersonics fight," Selva told the Military Times.
READ MORE: DARPA inks a contract for hypersonic weapon research [Military Times]
More on hypersonic weapons: The Pentagon Needs Help Intercepting “Hypersonic” Nukes