USAF: The US lags in hypersonic missiles development

WASHINGTON – U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said he was “dissatisfied” with the pace of progress in the service’s programs to create and deploy hypersonic weapons, learned After a series of failed tests of ARRW missiles in the United States, it was rumored that the country was lagging in the development of this type of weapon.

Speaking at an AFA conference on air, space, and cyberspace, he said he “clearly understands” how China and Russia plan to use their hypersonic missiles, which experts say are well ahead of US programs.

Speaking about China’s and Russia’s efforts on hypersonic weapons, Kendall stressed that they were advancing very rapidly and saw the value of such a development.

At the same time, he noted that the US Air Force, when creating hypersonic weapons, must first determine what “set of targets we want to hit” with hypersonic missiles, and then justify why hypersonic missiles will be the most economical way to attack these goals.

In general, Kendall noted that progress in the development of hypersonic weapons is being felt, but insisted that the situation in this area be better.

The head of the Trump administration’s defense research and development department and hypersonic expert Mark Lewis said that American planes in a probable war in the Pacific should destroy hundreds and thousands of targets, while only about 12 ARRWs were funded. The Pentagon is therefore faced with the task of increasing the production of such missiles.

But according to Kendall, the industrial base needed to create hypersonic weapons in large quantities will develop in parallel with the development of the program.

How far behind is the US from its main competitor, Russia?

In recent years, Russia has made significant progress in the field of hypersonic military missile construction. Perhaps Moscow was the reason for dozens of countries to start processes of serious investment in the development of programs for hypersonic systems and missiles.

Moscow currently has two hypersonic missiles and one hypersonic linear launch system. Zircon [Tsirkon] and Kalibr are the two hypersonic missiles that can reach speeds between 8 and 14 Mach and have a range of destruction between 2000 and 4500 km.

Perhaps the more serious threat is the Russian hypersonic glide vehicle Avangard, through which the Sarmat rocket can reach a speed of Mach 27, due to the hypersonic accelerator of Avangard. Sarmat is an intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile with a range of 18,000 km and can carry between 10 and 15 warheads.

The AGM-183A unsuccessful test

As we reported in April this year, the first firing of an AGM-183A by a B-52H Stratofortress bomber ended on a sour note: it was not possible to go to the end of the launch sequence of this hypersonic missile, for the reason that the US Air Force did not specify. USAF safely returned the carrier plane to Edwards Air Force Base [California].

“The ARRW program has been pushing the boundaries since its inception, and calculated risks are being taken to advance this important capability. Although this failure is disappointing, this trial has provided us with invaluable information that will allow us to learn lessons to continue moving forward,” commented General Heath Collins, the project manager.

As a reminder, the ARRW program was entrusted to Lockheed-Martin via a contract of 480 million dollars awarded in 2018. The AGM-183A consists of a thruster supposed to give hypersonic speed to a glider, called TBG [Tactical Boost Glide], which must then “slide” towards its target. This weapon must be used by B1 Lancer bombers as well as by F-15EX.

Elon Musk will make heat shields for US hypersonic missiles

The US Air Force is looking for new ways to fabricate heat shields (missiles) that could work in demanding hypersonic applications. For this purpose, a new industrial contract was concluded to research and select appropriate material technologies and production methods. Elon Musk’s company – SpaceX, was his beneficiary.

The US Air Force commissioned SpaceX to develop a concept for producing heat shields for future US missiles operating at very high air velocities. The agreement is the result of a tender procedure carried out on the initiative of the Pentagon, in which – according to general assurances – “many bidders” took part. The public tender was titled “Multipurpose thermal protection systems for hypersonics.”

The contract for USD 8.5 million was concluded between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and SpaceX in December 2020. However, the information was not made public until the end of February this year. “The aim is to improve the technology of manufacturing thermal protection systems to enable low-cost mass production of such next-generation devices,” says the award announcement.


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