Northrop Grumman Will Fit Its Scramjet Combustors to Raytheon’s Hypersonic Missile

Image courtesy: The Raytheon Company

Unlike vehicles with conventional rocket engines, which carry oxygen onboard, the Northrop Grumman ’s hypersonic propulsion system – which first powered NASA’s X-43A – activates at high speeds and scoops and compresses oxygen from the atmosphere using the shape of the vehicle's airframe. The system then ignites the compressed air to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds. Such speeds reduce flight times and increase vehicle survivability, effectiveness, and flexibility.

Designers originally thought this type of propulsion system could help increase launch vehicle payload capacity or make high-speed passenger travel feasible (since no onboard supply of oxidizer would be required). However, through a new teaming agreement signed at Le Bourget during the 53rd International Paris Air Show , Northrop Grumman’s scramjet combustors will find a new home on the Raytheon Company ’s air-breathing hypersonic weapons.

Read more: Lockheed Martin announces latest hypersonic progress at Le Bourget

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are working under a $200 million Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program contract to deliver an affordable, effective and producible cruise missile for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force . According to Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, the teaming agreement will use the combined capabilities of both companies to accelerate development and demonstrate readiness to produce the next generation of tactical missile systems.

“The Raytheon/Northrop Grumman team is quickly developing air-breathing hypersonic weapons to keep our nation ahead of the threat,” says Dr. Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. “This agreement combines Raytheon’s decades of tactical missile expertise with Northrop Grumman’s extensive scramjet engine development experience to produce the best possible weapons.”

“This teaming agreement extends our strong partnership with Raytheon on this critical technology capability. Our deep heritage in propulsion, fuzes, and warheads will help accelerate readiness of tomorrow’s missiles to meet range, survivability, safety, and lethality requirements,” says Mike Kahn, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Defense Systems. “Together with Raytheon, we intend to make great strides toward improving our nation’s high-speed weapon systems, which are critical to enhancing our warfighters’ capabilities for greater standoff and quicker time to target.”

Under the agreement, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman will continue to collaborate on HAWC and future air-breathing hypersonic missiles. Both companies are investing in hypersonic technologies and programs to ensure the military has a robust portfolio.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..