The Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded a $22 million contract through the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane to advance the Growing Additive Manufacturing Maturity for Airbreathing Hypersonics (GAMMA-H) program. This initiative aims to develop a prototype solution for manufacturing hypersonic weapon components.

The GAMMA-H program is a key part of the DoD’s strategy to enhance additive manufacturing processes, ensuring they can meet the stringent propulsion performance and environmental requirements of modern hypersonic airbreathing systems. Traditional manufacturing methods have struggled to achieve the complex geometries needed for advanced hypersonic weapons, making additive manufacturing a promising, cost-effective alternative.

According to the DoD, the GAMMA-H program will play a crucial role in optimizing additive manufacturing processes to produce hypersonic weapon components more affordably. Ross Niebergall, President of Aerojet Rocketdyne, stated, “Aerojet Rocketdyne will consolidate several essential steps of the end-to-end scramjet manufacturing process under the GAMMA-H contract, providing schedule and cost efficiencies associated with a less fragmented supply chain. Optimizing processes will increase part yields and reduce the number of processing steps, resulting in higher production velocity and lower cost.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne has a long history of advancing additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, for aerospace and defense applications. The company has collaborated with the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), NASA, and Boeing on projects like the X-51A Scramjet Engine demo.

Aerojet Rocketdyne highlights several benefits of 3D printing technology, including significantly reduced lead times, lower costs, and the ability to create designs that were previously impossible. The company’s facilities in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Los Angeles, California, are at the forefront of developing and producing metal alloy additive manufacturing parts for aerospace and defense propulsion and power systems. This technology is currently being applied in various projects, such as the AR1, RL10, RS-25, Bantam Family, MPS-120 CubeSat, NASA’s Orion Crew Module propulsion components, and other missile defense and tactical products.

The development of hypersonic weapons is a major focus for global military powers, with China and Russia leading the race. Reports indicate that Russia has already deployed hypersonic missiles in combat, while China is significantly ahead in the development, testing, and deployment of these weapons. This poses a significant concern for the US, which has yet to field a hypersonic missile. The most recent setback for the US was the failure of the March 13 test of the ARRW hypersonic missile.

Hypersonic weapons, capable of traveling at speeds exceeding Mach 5 and exhibiting high maneuverability, are challenging to track and intercept, underscoring the importance of advancements like those pursued through the GAMMA-H program.

By Impact Lab