Raytheon has received a contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue the development of hypersonic boost glide systems.

Under the terms of $20.4m contract modification, the company will work on the agency’s Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) programme, which aims to develop and demonstrate technologies that will enable air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide weapons.

The programme is a joint initiative between DARPA and the US Air Force (USAF). It seeks development of such a system in ways compatible with current launch platforms including the navy’s vertical launch system, and will culminate in a flight demonstration.

Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice-president Tom Bussing said: "Hypersonics is the new frontier of missile design and development.

"Hypersonics is the new frontier of missile design and development."

"The extreme environments where these advanced missiles must operate present significant engineering challenges.

"Our extensive experience and expertise in developing advanced guided weapon systems uniquely position Raytheon to help solve these problems and deliver these solutions."

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According to the TBG broad agency announcement, the project will address the system and technology issues needed for development of a hypersonic boost-glide system, considering vehicle concepts have the required aerodynamic and aerothermal performance, controllability and robustness for a wide operational envelope.

Other areas of interest include the system attributes and subsystems required to be effective in relevant operational environments, as well as approaches to reduce cost and improve affordability for both the demonstration system and future operational systems.

Raytheon noted that TBG could fly at speeds faster than Mach 5 and at altitudes of nearly 200,000ft after deployment, while resisting intense heat, and would require sensor packages to engage moving or re-locatable targets.

The re-entry vehicles are expected to be designed to skip across the inside of Earth’s upper atmosphere before descending on their targets, to help the weapon achieve the required speeds.

Work under the contract is scheduled to be carried out at the company’s facility in Tucson, Arizona, US.

Hypersonic weapons are difficult to intercept, and could enable soldiers to strike targets at long range more quickly than the existing missile systems.