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DARPA’s Glide Breaker developing hard-kill interceptor to counter the threat of hypersonic weapons being developed by Russia and China

Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 or 6,125 kilometers per hour) or more. Flying along the edge of space while gliding and maneuvering these missiles would strike targets with unprecedented speed and precision. Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.


Militaries are now developing various defensive strategies and solutions to counter the threat of hypersonic weapons. Glide Breaker intends to advance the United States’ means to counter hypersonic vehicles. According to a DARPA Broad Agency Announcement, released on 6 November 2018, Glide Breaker will develop an enabling technology that “is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging manoeuvring hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere”.


“The objective of the Glide Breaker program is to further the capability of the United States to defend against supersonic and the entire class of hypersonic threats,” DARPA said in an announcement for the July 2018 “Proposers Day.” “Of particular interest are component technologies that radically reduce risk for development and integration of an operational, hard-kill system.”


Glide Breaker could be used against new Russian and Chinese weapons, including Moscow’s new Mach 27 Avangard hypersonic missile. Glide Breaker’s core objective is deterrence. “A key figure of merit is deterrence: the ability to create large uncertainty for the adversary’s projected probability of mission success and effective raid size,” DARPA said in its Proposers Day notice.

DARPA Awards

DARPA) has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a contract to develop enabling propulsion technology for the Glide Breaker hypersonic defence interceptor programme. The contract, awarded in February 2020 and worth up to USD19.6 million, is for the research, development, test, and evaluation of propulsion technology for the base period of the Glide Breaker programme. Work is expected to be completed in February 2021.


Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies both solid-fuelled and air-breathing propulsion systems for hypersonic flight. The company delivered both system types for the joint US Air Force-DARPA-NASA X-51A WaveRider programme, which completed the first practical hypersonic flight of a hydrocarbon-fuelled and -cooled scramjet-powered vehicle in May 2010, and achieved its longest duration powered hypersonic flight in May 2013.


More recently, the company completed a series of subscale propulsion-system test firings as part of DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) programme – a joint DARPA/US Army initiative to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system, enabling hypersonic boost glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defences, and rapidly and precisely engage critical time-sensitive targets from a highly mobile launch platform.


DARPA awarded Northrop Grumman a USD13 million contract in Jan 2020  for the base period of the Glide Breaker programme.  The contract provides for “research, development and demonstration of a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere.”


SPARC to deliver propulsion design for hypersonic interceptor weapon

SPARC Research has received a contract for the propulsion design of a future hypersonic interceptor weapon system. Having received the contract award from the US not-for-profit research and development organisation Draper Laboratory, SPARC will also be responsible for delivering analysis support for the weapon. The project concept is based on advanced air-breathing propulsion technologies, which are expected to provide the hypersonic weapon with extended flight at increased speeds that have yet remained unachieved. In order to meet the challenge, SPARC Research will leverage its in-house experience and analysis tools.


The system uses an air-breathing engine to burn the stored missile fuel with atmospheric air instead of propellant ingredients that would be carried in a traditional rocket, significantly increasing the speed and range. The flight system needs specialised knowledge of the air properties entering the engine and ability to model fuel combustion at speeds greater than the speed of sound as encountered in a supersonic combustion ramjet (SCRAMJET) engine. Using modern multi-physics modelling tools, SPARC Research is focused on advancing the advanced rocket and air-breathing technology development, preliminary design and prototype demonstration. In August, the company collaborated with ANSYS and F1 Computer Solutions in order to modify and modernise missile propulsion design.




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