WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The next generation of aircraft, and warfare, will be hypersonic and as China and Russia make big advances in the space the US is stepping up its game.
The US has been playing around with hypersonic aircraft for decades now, the most public showing of which was the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), a glider that reached Mach 20 (13,000mph), and whose surfaces hit a toasty 3,500°F before it crashed into the sea. The program then went dark in 2011.
Despite it’s public appearance though the HTV-2 program was never designed in itself to create the next generation of hypersonic vehicles, it was simply a research and development project designed to collect data on three technical challenges of hypersonic flight, namely aerodynamics, aerothermal effects, and guidance, navigation and control. And now, years later, Lockheed Martin who’ve been promising a follow up to the iconic SR-71 Blackbird, a Mach 3 plane that even though it had no weapons became one of the most feared aircraft of the Cold War, since 2013, they have finally announced they’re going to building the SR-72 BlackSwift. The “Son” of the SR-71 the SR-72 will be an unmanned Mach 6 aircraft, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
“We’ve been saying hypersonics is two years away for the last 20 years, but all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with DARPA and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our war fighters as soon as possible,” said Rob Waiss, the head of their Skunk Works division.
“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” added Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics, “speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.”
According those familiar with the SR-72’s development, the jet, a small demonstrator version of which the USAF trialled in 2013, will use a Combined Cycle Propulsion System, or CCPS, also known as a Strutjet, which has been co-developed with Aerojet Rocketdyne, where a scramjet, ramjet and ducted rocket are combined to share a single propulsion flow path.
The Strutjet has always been promoted as the great white hope for the black ops project and Lockheed has allegedly tested several over the past few years, and now Lockheed, it seems, firmly believes it’s nearing the SR-72 prototyping phase and they expect to field a F-22 sized, hypersonic flight research vehicle by the early 2020s, and if, and it’s a big if, that timeline holds up then we could expect to see a fully operational SR-72 emerge before 2030.