The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne to design a propulsion system for its Operational Fires (OpFires) programme.

The OpFires programme has been designed with an aim to develop a ground-launched system, which would allow for hypersonic boost-glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defences, as well as easily and quickly engaging critical time-sensitive targets.

Under the $13.4m contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will focus on the development of design propulsion concepts and technologies for a new ground-launched tactical weapon system.

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president Eileen Drake said: “We are very pleased to have been selected by DARPA to develop propulsion technologies to support the OpFires programme.

“Our innovative team has a tremendous amount of experience developing hypersonic and missile technologies such as solid rocket booster motors, divert and attitude control systems, warheads and scramjet propulsion systems. We look forward to applying our experience to the OpFires programme.”

“Phase II of the OpFires programme will see Aerojet Rocketdyne build and test at least two representative booster test articles.”

The 12-month, $4.6m first phase of the effort is focused on the design and development of an advanced solid rocket motor.

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The contract comes with an option for Phase II and is valued at $8.8m over 12 months if exercised.

Phase II of the OpFires programme will see Aerojet Rocketdyne build and test at least two representative booster test articles.

OpFires also includes a Phase III, which will focus on the integration of different weapon systems and will conclude with the performance of integrated end-to-end flight tests slated for 2022.

Last month, companies Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) were selected to develop and demonstrate a ground-launched system to improve precision engagement of time-sensitive targets.