An experimental Mach-five missile accidentally fell off a B-52 test plane during a trial over California, Aviation Week reported on Tuesday.
The Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept missile, or HAWC, was destroyed when it struck the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, according to reporters Guy Norris and Steve Trimble.
Start a Homeland Security degree at American Military University.
HAWC is one of several super-fast missiles that the Air Force is developing in order to help its ancient B-52 bombers and other planes poke holes in Chinese and Russian defenses.
HAWC is a scramjet, meaning it has an engine and breathes air like an airplane does. Other hypersonic weapons, such as the Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapon, boost to hypersonic speed atop a rocket then glides at five times the speed of sound.
Lockheed Martin LMT makes both the HAWC and the ARRW. The Air Force flew, but did not launch, the first ARRW on a B-52 back in June 2019.
Congress gave the military $2.6 billion for hypersonics research in 2020. As part of that overall funding, the Air Force got $20 million to develop the HAWC in 2020 as well as $286 million to work on the ARRW.
The Air Force wants hypersonic missiles bad in order to complicate Russia and China’s own planning. “We could carry more of them on a bomber, but we also could carry them on our fighters, and that opens up the entire Air Force quiver,” Will Roper, the flying branch’s top weapons-buyer, told reporters.
“That kind of conundrum to present to an adversary is exactly what we want,” Roper added. “We can hit you high and low, with weapons that are wicked fast, that are going to require a lot of expense for you to try to defend against.”
But the Air Force also needs these super-fast weapons to work. Perfectly. It’s no exaggeration to claim that a mishap involving a hypersonic weapon could have cataclysmic consequences.
The Russian government in the 2020 edition of its nuclear-weapons policy document lists the threats its considers justifications for “neutralization” by way of nuclear deterrence.
These threats include, among others, the deployment near Russian territory of “precision non-nuclear and hypersonic weapons,” according to a translation of the policy document by Dmitry Stefanovich of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
The paranoia makes some sense. A hypersonic missile could carry a nuclear warhead. And owing to its high speed, it might make a useful first-strike weapon for a country dead set of pulling off an atomic ambush.
Any Mach-five missile streaking toward Russia could look an incoming nuclear strike, even if it isn’t.
For that reason the Air Force needs for its hypersonic weapons to work flawlessly. An accidental launch could trigger an atomic response. And end the whole world.
All that is to say, a hypersonic missile accidentally falling off a B-52 is a big deal.