The US Air Force has narrowed its search for a new hypersonic strike weapon for bombers and fighters to five vendors.

The service intends to award an engineering, manufacturing and development contract in early fiscal year 2018 to either Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK or Raytheon. Only those companies could produce the weapon within the USAF’s timeframe, according to a 21 July notice of contract action on the US Federal Business Opportunities website.

Dubbed the hypersonic conventional strike weapon, the selected design will provide a precision strike capability against fixed and moving targets in an anti-access, area-denial environment using Global Positioning System and Inertial Guidance System navigation, the notice states. It will be fielded on an unnamed, government-issued warhead flying on existing fighter jets and bombers, it adds.

A subsequent, 29 June notice emphasises rapid fielding, and seeks vendors skilled in hypersonic aerodynamics, aero-thermal protection systems, solid rocket motors, missile integration, advanced hypersonic guidance, navigation and control, and aircraft integration. It also outlines the need for a strike weapon powered by solid rocket motors, leaving out the possibility of an air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet-propelled design.

Last year, the USAF qualified a new explosive formulation for extremely high temperatures, which would apply to hypersonic weapons, according to FY2018 budget justification documents released by the service outlining research and development of conventional munitions.

The USAF has an existing inventory of ground-launched hypersonic weapons which can fly at five times the speed of sound, but has no air-launched weapons that can exceed Mach 5.