Boeing has just received an $18.3 million contract from DARPA for a third test of a nifty technology -- the HyFly hypersonic missile -- that could lead to one very fast cruise missile.
Current cruise missiles, of course, fly at subsonic speed levels that are about the same as commercial airliners. While current cruise missiles are very accurate their time to target can mean that the target moves. So the current generation is great for hard targets but not for nasty people plotting acts of terror.
So far the program has received about $135 million, according to John Fox, Boeing's HyFly program manager. The HyFly is powered by a Dual Combustion Ramjet (DCR) engine, built by Aerojet in Sacramento, Calif. The system has had some testing hiccups. During its first flight in September last year the system suffered a software error that stopped the test in its tracks. The second test, in January, saw speeds of Mach 3.5 but the engine failed to light due to a malfunction in the fuel system. The vehicle stayed under control and they were able to prove guidance accuracy.
To be clear, this is not part of the Pentagon's Prompt Global Strike Initiative, which calls for the ability to strike a target just about anywhere in the world within an hour. HyFly would have to be mounted on something like a B-52 or a ship to be able strike targets in theater since its range is measure in hundreds of miles, not thousands.
DARPA does have a hypersonic program called Falcon that is part of Prompt Global Strike. It is designed to deliver a whopping 12,000 pounds of payload over a enormous distance of 9,000 nautical miles from the continental US in less than two hours.