Lockheed Martin to Develop New Hypersonic Weapons For US Marines

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in collaboration with Lockheed Martin are developing the OpFires mobile medium-range hypersonic missile assembly to fit on the back of an U.S. Army’s Palletized Load System (PLS) 5-axle 10×10 truck.

OpFires will provide the U.S. Army with a highly mobile vehicle for firing hypersonic missiles that is independent of the tractor and trailer combination for the longer-range (strategic) hypersonic missiles. The U.S. Marines may also be interested in OpFires as they use the similar Logistic Vehicle Replacement System (LVSR) 10×10 truck.

The OpFires Project will use throttleable rocket motors on hypersonic missiles to achieve varying ranges in flight; therefore, OpFires can hit targets within the range envelope up to 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers). At Mach 5+, the OpFires’ warhead can fly 1,000 miles in approximately 20 minutes.

Typically, once ignited, rocket motors burn tremendous amounts of fuel that is converted into energy to fly a certain distance at full thrust.  However, to hit a target closer than the maximum range distance of the missile would require the missile to slow down or “throttle” its engine thrust to adjust for course corrections in its flight trajectory.  Slowing down with unburnt fuel, equating to unexpended weight onboard, adds aerodynamic stress to the missile body casing if performed incorrectly and that might cause the missile to break apart in flight, especially at hypersonic speeds.  Nonetheless, throttling the engine is necessary or else the missile might overshoot the target if the rocket motor cannot adjust its thrust levels, and that is what makes the DARPA/Lockheed Martin OpFires medium-range hypersonic missiles unique because throttling a rocket motor effectively is a difficult engineering challenge.

The U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) and the U.S. Army’s Long-Range hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) also use thrust-vectoring rocket motors to throttle the thrust and allow for long-range maneuvering in flight.

These hypersonic missiles fit within the U.S. Army’s Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF) strategy of differing ranges for U.S. 155mm extended-range artillery shells and for various precision missiles as outlined by Breaking Defense. The same media outlet also discussesthe OpFires Project with its unique throttleable rocket motor.

While DARPA and Lockheed Martin are developing OpFires mainly for the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) might also take an interest because the USMC also has a 5-axle 10×10 truck that is very similar to the cross-country U.S. Army’s Palletized Load System (PLS) tractor.

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