The US Navy says it must field a hypersonic air-breathing anti-ship cruise missile no later than 2028. The service says the weapon is critical to helping it counter emerging threats from potential nearby adversaries , such as China and Russia.
Details of what the Navy now officially calls the Hypersonic Air-Launched Anti-Surface Warfare Missile, or HALO, are contained in recently published documents related to the service’s latest budget request for fiscal year 2023. This program was previously known as Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment 2 (OASuW Inc 2). OASuW Increment 1 is the existing AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a subsonic design.
“OASuW Inc 2/HALO will address advanced threats from engagement ranges that allow the Navy to operate and control the contested battlespace in littoral waters and area anti-access/deny environments (A2 /AD)”, says a budget document. “In order to counter the evolution of the near-peer threat capability, OASuW Inc 2/HALO is to be fielded in fiscal year 2028.”
The Navy is seeking just under $92.5 million to launch the HALO program in fiscal year 2023. The service says the funding will go towards things like launching a new technology development program for the missile , making “targeted investments in the maturation of subsystem technologies” and “component or large-scale prototyping activities”. This latest work would support the development of a datalink for the weapon, among other things.
The budget documents do not include any specific details on the configuration, performance and other desired capabilities of the HALO missile before mention of an integrated datalink. This would allow the weapon to receive new targeting information throughout its flight, or even be fully retargeted, as well as potentially returning various types of information and working with other missiles. The Navy says it will leverage relevant, but unspecified, past work.
In March 2021, the Office of Naval Research issued a procurement notice regarding the planned development of an experimental scramjet-powered hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile design that would be compatible with the F/A fighter aircraft -18E/F Super Hornet, nicknamed Screaming Arrow, before canceling it a few days later for obscure reasons. He subsequently reposted the notice in August.
The previous year, the Navy had hired Boeing to develop a ramjet missile demonstrator to be refined for future high-velocity air-launched anti-ship and land-attack missiles for its F/A-18E/Fs. The Navy has also been directly involved in the past in at least one others run by the US Air Force experimental air-launched hypersonic missile program, which was conducted under the auspices of the Pentagon’s Joint Hypersonics Transition Office (JHTO). Boeing was also the prime contractor in this case, with a design known as HyFly 2 which was intended to provide a stepping stone to operational capability for the Super Hornet.
There has been no shortage of other air-breathing hypersonic weapons programs within the Department of Defense in recent years that the Navy might also seek to exploit. This includes a US-Australian partnership, again linked to the development of a hypersonic air-launched missile that would be compatible with the F/A-18E/F design, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects hypersonic air-breathing weapon. Agency (DARPA). Conceptual project (HAWC). HAWC, in which the Air Force also participates, is meant to be a stepping stone to that service’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) program, which it hopes will produce an operational weapon by 2027.
The Navy’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal does not name any specific launch platform desired for HALO, but it would appear that it is more interested in integrating this weapon first on its Super Hornets on base. of his past work. This missile could eventually be integrated into other Navy aircraft, such as the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, but the design could easily be too large to fit inside that aircraft’s internal weapons bays. Lockheed Martin has previously released illustrations of an F-35C carrying a missile based on its HAWC design externally, which would negatively impact the stealth characteristics of the jet.
Additionally, while the Navy’s immediate goal is clearly to acquire a hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile, it is very possible that the final HALO design could also have a land attack capability. It should be noted that the Navy is working separately to acquire a service-specific sub-variant of the AGM-158C, the AGM-158C-3, which will combine the capabilities of the LRASM with those of the latest versions of its parent design, the ‘AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), and subsequently be capable of hitting targets on land, as well as on land.
Regardless, the Navy’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal makes it clear that the service views HALO as critical to ensuring its ability to conduct extended range airstrikes against major threats in highly contested environments in any future high-level conflict. Although the budget documents do not specifically mention the “evolving near-peer threat capability” that pushes the navy to use this weapon over the next six years, Russia claims to be working on fielding its own hypersonic cruise missile. ship-launched air-breathing vessel, the Zircon. China is pursuing its own development and fielding of high-speed anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles.
HALO is just the latest addition to the Navy’s plans to field various hypersonic missiles of various types over the next decade. This includes the Intermediate-Range Conventional Prompt Strike (IRCPS) missile, which the service is developing in conjunction with the military and which carries an unpowered boost-glide hypersonic vehicle, and the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) Block IB. The IRCPS, which the Navy hopes to deploy for the first time in 2025 on its Zumwalt class stealth destroyers, is primarily intended to strike high-value, heavily defended, and potentially weather-sensitive targets ashore. The Navy hopes to field the SM-6 Block IB, a versatile weapon that will be capable of engaging various targets at sea, on land and in the air, as a new weapon for different classes of ships and submarines in 2027.
While the Navy is now aiming for an aggressive development schedule for the air-launched HALO missile, it could potentially have three different new hypersonic missiles in service by the end of the decade.
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