The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking companies to submit ideas for counter-hypersonic weapons as part of its Glide Breaker programme.

The Glide Breaker programme aims to rapidly develop a low-cost enabling technology critical for an advanced interceptor capable of defeating manoeuvring hypersonic vehicles in the upper atmosphere, according to a 6 November online broad agency announcement by DARPA. Key aspects of the Glide Breaker programme are classified, the notice says.

Proposals are due 21 December 2018 and DARPA plans to make a single award, though additional awards are possible pending funding availability. After a proposal has been selected, the winner will execute a series of systems and design reviews throughout 2019 and 2020, with the aim of completing a test in late 2020, DARPA says.

The Glide Breaker programme may request proposals for separate and additional technology development work through a separate announcement in the mid-fiscal year 2019, subject to DARPA’s discretion and funding availability, the notice says.

DARPA’s pursuit of counter weapons comes as the race to develop hypersonic vehicles between the USA, China and Russia continues to speed up. In August, China reportedly conducted the first flight of an unmanned hypersonic test vehicle, Starry Sky 2, reaching speeds of Mach 5.5 for more than six minutes, and topping off at M6. During the flight the vehicle climbed to an altitude of about 98,000ft and completed several manoeuvres.

For its part, the US Air Force is aiming for a 2020 initial operational capability for its Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), an air-breathing, ram-jet-powered cruise missile being developed by Lockheed Missiles and Space for $928 million. The USAF also awarded a separate $780 million contract to Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control in 2017 to develop the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), a boost glide hypersonic system, which uses a rocket to accelerate its payload to high speeds, before the payload separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination at up to M20.