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US Air Force grants Raytheon $1bn hypersonic cruise missile contract

US Aerospace manufacturer Raytheon’s hospitality chalet at the Farnborough Airshow. (File photo)

Major US weapons maker Raytheon has beaten fellow giant military contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin to win the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) contract, worth $985 million, from the Air Force.

The military service announced the contract assignment on Saturday, adding that the next phase of the program includes “HACM weapon system design, development and initial delivery through the performance of model-based critical design review, qualification, integration, manufacturing and testing.”

If HACM development continues to progress, the weapon could become the first scramjet-powered, air-launched hypersonic missile to be introduced into the Air Force’s inventory as early as 2027, said an Air Force press release as cited in a report by Breaking Defense military news outlet.

“HACM is a powerful example of developing and integrating combat capabilities alongside our partners from the beginning,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown as quoted in the report. “HACM will provide our commanders with tactical flexibility to employ fighters to hold high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk while maintaining bombers for other strategic targets.”

According to the report, the Royal Australian Air Force became involved in the development of the missile in 2020 through the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) initiative, and could offer up Australian test infrastructure for the initial all-up-round flight tests.

The development comes as the US lags far behind Russia and China in the development and production of hypersonic missiles.

The US Air Force has expressed a strong interest in the HACM program, requesting $316.8 million in its fiscal year 2023 budget submission — an increase of nearly $257 million more than FY22.

According to the budget, the HACM vendor will progress to the critical design review stage in FY23, when it will continue “the assembly, integration and test of subsystems for qualification testing, as well as prototype systems for system qualification, ground test and flight testing.”

Boeing, Lockheed and Raytheon won initial HACM design contracts in June 2021 and were expected to finish preliminary design reviews by the end of September, allowing the Air Force to pick a single vendor prior to the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

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