Washington Times on March 19, 2014, reported that an experimental scramjet-powered, ultrahigh speed strike vehicle is emerging as the Pentagon’s main choice for a new long-range, rapid attack weapon, a senior Pentagon official says. Excerpts below:

Alan R. Shaffer, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for research and engineering, told a defense industry conference that prototypes and recent tests proved concepts for hypersonic arms, and several systems are part of a high-priority effort by Pentagon weapons developers, despite the era of sharply-diminished defense spending.

Hypersonic vehicles can deliver nuclear or conventional payloads in precision strikes against increasingly hard-to-penetrate air defenses of countries like China, Russia and Iran, he said.

“We, the U.S., do not want to be the second country to understand how to have controlled scramjet hypersonics,” Mr. Shaffer told the Precision Strike Association’s annual review on March 18.

…the senior weapons research official said the Pentagon’s most promising hypersonic vehicle is the X-51, a cruise missile-sized weapon powered by an advanced engine called a scramjet. The X-51, developed by Boeing, flies at up to 3,882 mph, or Mach 5.1, and is launched from under the wing of a B-52 bomber.

The experimental aircraft is a good candidate to win this year’s Collier Trophy, the annual award recognizing the most significant recent achievement in air or space flight, Mr. Shaffer said.

Mr. Shaffer said hypersonic weapons, when fully developed, will be less expensive than current jets and cruise missiles powered by complex turbine engines with many parts. A scramjet, or supersonic combusting ramjet, hypersonic vehicle has few moving parts.

…the X-51 scored a breakthrough last year. During a successful flight test, the vehicle flew for just 300 seconds but traveled several thousand miles and reached a height of 80,000 feet — considered near-space — at over Mach 5.

“It’s the second time we have shown a scramjet can ignite and give positive acceleration,” Mr. Shaffer said. “That is a huge deal. That means we are now starting to understand hypersonics.”

The next step is for weapons engineers to make the system affordable, and Mr. Shaffer urged engineers to tackle the problem.

Another hypersonic weapon on the Pentagon’s drawing board is the HTV-2, or Hypersonic Technology Vehicle, that is boosted by a missile…and then maneuvers and glides to its target at very high speeds.

Mr. Shaffer said that system in tests flew a long distance at very high speeds and made a controlled re-entry. Despite not meeting test goals, the tests generated substantial data.

Another system is the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, a missile-launched glide vehicle that had a successful test. It will fly at speeds faster than Mach 5.

A fourth system is the hypersonic international flight research experimentation program or Hifire, a Mach 8 weapon being developed with Australia.

A briefing slide during Mr. Shaffer’s talk emphasized the benefits of hypersonic weapons as — long range, high speed and effective payloads.

The weapons will provide “rapid, responsive strike in anti-access/access denied environments” — the Pentagon euphemism for China’s high-technology weapons designed to push U.S. forces out of Asia.


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