Hypersonic missile launches off Marine Corps truck in DARPA test

Ryan White

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon office that conducts research and development of emerging technologies, said it successfully conducted the first flight test of the Operational Fires Program at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The medium-range hypersonic missile was launched from the back of a Marine Corps logistics truck. Any USMC or Army trucks equipped with the Palletized Load System can be converted into a launch platform. The program uses missile round pallets that are designed to be used with the load handling systems on these vehicles. An Army artillery fire control system was used to initiated the launch as well.

An integrated systems critical design review of the OpFires program will be completed in 2022, DARPA said.

“This is a promising step toward a [transporter erector launcher] on-demand capability for accurately firing medium-range missiles from highly agile, readily available logistics trucks that are already in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventory,” Lt. Col. Joshua Stults, the DARPA program manager for OpFires, said in a statement. “Our successful agile hardware development approach prioritizes full-scale flight testing that will inform further design maturation this year.”

A Lockheed Martin project, OpFires integrates a throttleable boost motor into the hypersonic missile, which typically fly at faster that five times the speed of sound. The variable motor allows the missile to strike targets across the medium-range spectrum without having to preform energy-bleed maneuvers.

Lockheed Martin also adapted proven electronics and precision fires subsystems from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems into the OpFires project, allowing for interoperability with the Army’s existing Advance Field Artillery Tactical Data System infrastructure.

HIMARS, another Lockheed product, have been making headlines for their effectiveness against Russian forces and countermeasures while in use by the Ukrainian military. They have been credited with the destruction of Russian supply depots, forward command posts and the commander of a VDV paratrooper regiment. The system currently is capable of striking targets over 300 km away, according to Lockheed Martin.

“The OpFires program is a great example of how DARPA, in partnership with industry, is helping the Department of Defense facilitate rapid development and testing of advanced hypersonic technologies to accelerate the delivery of transformational warfighting capabilities,” Michael White, principal director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said.