Lockheed Martin gets a second hypersonic weapons contract, this time for $480 million, as the US tries to keep pace with Russia and China

  • Lockheed Martin secured a $480 million U.S. Air Force contract to design a hypersonic weapon prototype, the Pentagon said Monday.
  • The Pentagon's second hypersonic contract comes as Russia and China sprint to add these emerging weapons to their arsenals.
  • A hypersonic weapon is a missile that travels at Mach 5 or higher, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound. That means a hypersonic weapon can travel about one mile per second.
Concept art of a hypersonic weapon.
Lockheed Martin
Concept art of a hypersonic weapon.

Lockheed Martin has won a second multimillion-dollar Air Force contract to design a hypersonic weapon prototype, as the U.S. tries to match Russia and China in hypersonic development.

The award, which is "not-to-exceed" $480 million, comes four months after the Bethesda, Maryland-based defense giant won its first hypersonic weapons contract. Development will take place in Orlando, Florida, under Lockheed's missiles and fire control unit and is expected to be completed by November 2021.

The Pentagon unveiled the deal Monday.

A hypersonic weapon is a missile that travels at Mach 5 or higher, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound. That means a hypersonic weapon can travel about one mile per second.

The Pentagon's second hypersonic contract comes as Russia and China sprint to add these emerging weapons to their arsenals.

Read more: Russia and China are 'aggressively developing' hypersonic weapons — here's what they are and why the US can't defend against them

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about nuclear and hypersonic weapons, which he described as "invincible" during a state of the nation address. Of the six weapons Putin debuted in March, CNBC has learned that two of them will be ready for war by 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports.

Currently, the Pentagon has nearly a dozen programs tasked with developing and defending against the new breed of weapons.

In April, Lockheed Martin secured a $928 million contract to build an undefined number of hypersonic conventional strike weapons. According to the contract, the defense giant will be responsible for designing, engineering, weapon integration and logistical support. The development will take place in Huntsville, Alabama, which is known as "Rocket City" as it was the birthplace of America's rocket program.

Lockheed Martin is also in the process of developing the SR-72, a hypersonic unmanned plane dubbed the "son of the Blackbird." In 2014, the defense giant was awarded $892,292 by NASA to study the development of the hypersonic spy plane.

The Lockheed Martin SR-72 is a conceptualized hypersonic UAV intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Source: Lockheed Martin
The Lockheed Martin SR-72 is a conceptualized hypersonic UAV intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In 1976, the Air Force flew Lockheed Martin's SR-71 Blackbird from New York to London in less than two hours — at speeds exceeding Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.

The SR-72 is envisioned to operate at speeds up to Mach 6. And while the hypersonic SR-72 isn't expected to be operational until 2030, the company sees developing a platform of that magnitude as a game-changer.

"This could forever change our ability to deter and respond to conflict, allowing warfighters to quickly address threats before an adversary may have time to react," Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said of the hypersonic plane in March.

Hewson also said the development of the aircraft, which is estimated to cost $1 billion, will change the "definition of air power by giving the U.S. significant tactical and strategic advantages."

Correction: This story was revised to correct the cost of the contract for the SR-72 study commissioned in 2014.