Boeing to conduct trials of DARPA's Glide Breaker hypersonic program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Boeing a $70.6 million contract to advance to the second phase of the "Glide Breaker" hypersonic interceptor program. This milestone comes more than a year after DARPA initially solicited proposals for technologies capable of defending against hypersonic threats.

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Boeing to conduct trials of DARPAs Glide Breaker hypersonic program 925 004 DARPA's Glide Breaker program is specifically designed to counter advanced hypersonic glide vehicle threats  (Picture source: DARPA)

In this new phase, Boeing will perform computational fluid dynamics analyses, wind tunnel tests, and evaluation of aerodynamic jet interaction effects during flight testing. Maj. Nathan Greiner, program manager, said Phase II aims to "develop the technical understanding of jet interactions necessary to enable the design of propulsion control systems for a future operational gliding interceptor vehicle." Work under this contract is expected to be completed by February 2027.

The Glide Breaker program uses a specialized killer vehicle that can be launched from an Aegis MK-41 vertical launch system. This capability allows the interceptor to engage hypersonic threats during their glide phase, a unique feature that sets the Glide Breaker program apart from other missile defense systems like THAAD. Initially, the program focused on developing a "Diversion Attitude Control System" (DACS) to aid navigation of the killer vehicle. This system is crucial for guiding the killer vehicle towards its target. In the upcoming Phase II, the program will delve into the complex interactions between DACS jets and hypersonic crossflow around the killer vehicle. Understanding these interactions is essential to controlling the killer vehicle at hypersonic speeds.

Indeed, DARPA's Glide Breaker program is specifically designed to counter advanced hypersonic glide vehicle threats, including systems like the Russian "Avangard" and the Chinese "Staryy Sky." These weapons are notorious for their exceptional speed and maneuverability, capable of traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and changing trajectory in flight to evade existing missile defense systems, differentiating them from traditional supersonic missiles that follow a trajectory predictable. Their ability to operate in the glide phase, a prolonged period of stable flight at high altitudes, makes them particularly difficult to intercept.

Hypersonic missiles represent a growing threat to United States security, not only because of their inherent destructive potential but also because of their phenomenal speed. Traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5, these missiles possess colossal kinetic energy that allows them to pierce highly protected facilities, such as ICBM silos, even with conventional warheads. This kinetic energy, combined with hypersonic speed, also allows these missiles to destroy strategic targets like aircraft carriers, making current defenses almost obsolete.

Faced with this threat, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is actively pursuing programs to develop interception technologies. However, current missile defense systems, such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), are limited in their effectiveness against hypersonic missiles. The THAAD uses a "hit-to-kill" approach, meaning it must directly hit the target to neutralize it, which is extremely difficult given the speed and maneuverability of hypersonic vehicles. Additionally, THAAD is designed to intercept missiles in limited areas and at higher altitudes, making it inadequate to counter hypersonic vehicles that can fly at lower altitudes and change course quickly.

The Glide Breaker aims to neutralize these threats by focusing on the glide phase, which is the longest phase between launch and terminal engagement of the weapon. The program uses a specialized killer vehicle capable of engaging with hypersonic threats during this critical phase. By developing technologies to understand and control jet interactions at hypersonic speeds, the Glide Breaker aspires to provide an effective response to advanced weapon systems