The U.S. Air Force is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create an air-breathing cruise missile capable of speeds of up to 3,836 miles per hour. So-called hypersonic cruise missiles would give the military the ability to overwhelm enemy defenses through sheer speed and destroy time-critical targets.
Cruise missiles fly low to avoid enemy radar and air patrols. They also use fuel-sipping turbine engines, which makes them relatively pokey (below Mach 1) but offers the advantage of longer ranges. All current cruise missiles—from the American Tomahawk to the Russian Klub— fly at speeds slower than 768 miles an hour.
The Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept—or HAWC—plans to change all that. HAWC will use a scramjet engine to achieve speeds greater than Mach 5—3,836 miles an hour—potentially all the way up to Mach 10. That would make it capable of making a run from New York to Los Angeles in just 20 minutes.
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