C4ISR

Lockheed Martin renews push for hypersonic spy plane

Renewing a push to follow up on military research and testing efforts aimed at fielding hypersonic weapons and aircraft, Lockheed Martin maintains it could produce a hypersonic demonstrator the size of an F-22 fighter for less than $1 billion.

Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson, speaking at an annual media day event this week, said the price tag for the SR-72 includes development, manufacture and flight-testing of a hypersonic plane. Hewson added that the company has already produced a "controllable, low-drag, aerodynamic configuration" under the HTV-3X program capable of "stable operation" from sub-sonic through hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6.

The Hypersonic Test Vehicle, or Blackswift Test Bed, is part of the Falcon program jointly funded the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Air Force. Falcon is a component of a larger Pentagon "prompt global strike" capability designed to develop hypersonic weapons and a delivery vehicle that would allow it to hit targets anywhere in the world within an hour.

A future hypersonic plane could also replace the retired SR-71 spy plane, flying twice as fast 

Another DARPA demonstrator program, the Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), demonstrated stable flight at speeds greater than Mach 20, though not for a long duration. Along with advanced aerodynamic shapes that are maneuverable, the hypersonic effort also focused on thermal protection along with navigation and guidance improvements.

While these hypersonic test programs have wound down, Hewson said Lockheed Martin is currently supporting two military research efforts called Tactical Boost Glide and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

Tactical Boost Glide is a joint DARPA-Air Force effort to develop a hypersonic system at Mach 5 or higher. DARPA said the program seeks to build on development and flight-testing during the HTV-2 program.

The Air Force and DARPA also are jointly sponsoring HAWC research, which aims to demonstrate technologies needed for longer-range, air-launched hypersonic cruise missiles. A key element of the effort is development of a scramjet-powered propulsion system to provide a hypersonic cruise capability.

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works unveiled a concept for a SR-72 spy plane several years ago that reportedly uses scramjet propulsion to achieve hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6, or about 4,600 mph. (The SR-71 Blackbird was capable of speeds up to Mach 3.5.)

The research agency said the technology also could be used on future reusable hypersonic aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions along with access to space.

"The technology could also enable hypersonic passenger flights, and even easier access to space," Hewson claimed.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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