Air Force to accelerate hypersonic weapon development?


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By signing two different contracts worth $1.4 billion in the past four months with Lockheed Martin, the Air Force is claiming that it is accelerating the development of hypersonic weapons in order to keep up with similar development by the Chinese and the Russians.

The first contract, announced in April, awards $928 million to develop something called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW). And last week, the Air Force disclosed another deal, worth up to $480 million, to begin designing the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

“We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the war fighter as soon as possible,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement last week.

Hypersonic vehicles travel at least five times faster than the speed of sound (Mach 5; Mach 1 at sea level is 762 mph, or 1,226 km/h). And they’re designed to be maneuverable, which differentiates them from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other fast-flying conventional weapons systems that follow predictable paths. “We don’t currently have effective defenses against hypersonic weapons because of the way they fly; i.e., they’re maneuverable and fly at an altitude our current defense systems are not designed to operate at,” Richard Speier, adjunct staff at the nonprofit RAND Corp., told CNBC in March. “Our whole defensive system is based on the assumption that you’re gonna intercept a ballistic object.”

I am a bit skeptical here. The military has been playing around with hypersonic development now for the last fifteen years, spending a lot of money flying a handful of test flights of three different design concept prototypes. Nothing is even close to an actual operational vehicle. These new contracts might produce something, but I fear that they are also pork-laden, and will be too expensive and take far too long, producing nothing more than test prototypes once again.

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6 comments

  • pzatchok

    Did I miss something? Has the rest of the wold found a way to stop our cruse missiles and other offensive systems?
    I just don’t see a need for a hypersonic attack weapon.
    I do see a need for a hypersonic target drone to test our new laser weapons against.

  • hondo

    Always leery when told it’s to keep up with those more advanced Russians and Chinese.

  • Col Beausabre

    I can’t understand the idea that a hypersonic vehicle can be maneuverable. I remember reading a passage by aviation expert Bill Gunston ( ex RAF fighter & instructor pilot, degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Technical Editor of Britain’s Flight Magazine, his book “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets & Missiles” although dated remains unequalled

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gunston

    https://www.amazon.com/Illustrated-Encyclopaedia-Worlds-Rockets-Missiles/dp/0861010299/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1534945547&sr=1-1&keywords=rockets+missiles+gunston

    where he pointed out that once you get to extreme speeds, you go in a straight line due to the energy requirements (“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”) and stress on the airframe if you try to turn. I once read an account by a Sled (SR-71) Driver where he stated if he began a 180 degree turn at max speed near the Canadian border, he’d finish near the Mexican one.

    Second point, even at extreme altitude atmospheric heating will make a hypersonic vehicle stand out against the cold of space like a lighthouse at infrared frequencies making it easy to detect and track.

  • pzatchok

    Turning is easy with small side facing rockets or jets of gas. Already in use by other missile systems.

    And as for high altitude, they are not meant for high altitude they are meant for low altitude to get onto target even faster.
    Conventional aircraft do go faster at higher altitude but it takes time to get that high and time to come back down. the whole time tracked by radar. The lower it flies the better chance it has of being missed.

  • Andrew

    Turning stops being “easy” with thrusters once you have a human being on board. The SR 71 had a three state turning radius largely because of the g forces. Heat was the limiting factor in the SR71. It had to have highly NON volatile fuel to run in the engines because the FUEL was routed through leading edge surfaces to keep them from melting at mach 3.2. Heat is also why it was made from Titanium Steel.

    And you better believe that heat signature will be guaranteed visible to a blind man at a thousand miles. If you want to see that here,
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0VXptQdiMs
    That streak of light is the sabot round being heated up by the atmosphere. And THAT thing is made from solid depleted Uranium.

    This is what you saw.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheinmetall_120_mm_gun

    Note the spec.
    Muzzle velocity 1,580 to 1,750 m/s (5,200 to 5,700 ft/s)

    The speed of sound is 1087 feet per second. This thing drives a Sabot round down range at 5.24 times that. Which is to say comfortably within the realm of the Hypersonic. This gun has been in service for 40 years. It is a hypersonic weapon folks. There is nothing new in this.

    Now can you imagine the kind of velocities you could get with a properly designed Sabot round made for this gun?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16%22/50_caliber_Mark_7_gun

    It ain’t much of a stretch since it is already half way there. Making it maneuverable? Why? At hypersonic speeds. If you are close enough the target has no TIME to move.

  • pzatchok

    The heat is no real problem either. At least not for the crafts flight and operation.

    They place a heat shield nose cone on it and once it reaches speed it actually flies inside a bubble. The nose creates a bow wave and that creates a bubble around the craft. A bubble of low speed and thus lower temp air. Turbulent but possible to drive a spear through it.

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