There has been a lot of talk lately about hypersonic missiles. While the pace of the race was initially set by the Chinese (and the PR-savvy Russians), it has been working very hard in the United States for the past year. One of their latest ideas is more than just another bullet.
Leidos causes a “maze”
Among the several hypersonic projects being worked on in the United States, one of the most interesting was the concept of building a multi-role hypersonic platform equipped with a scramjet engine. Unlike the ARRW missile I described, it would not be a HGV (booster + glider) design, but a HCM maneuver vehicle, but the M here does not mean a missile, but rather a multi-purpose vehicle.
The platform would have a standardized cargo hatch in which the military could transport various items. One of the basic options will of course be the creation of projectiles for kinetic strikes based on it, but we are also talking about sensors and sensors for intelligence and reconnaissance. According to available information, the vehicle is disposable.
After developing the initial concept, US Air Force scientists created a program for defense companies that would like to support their work. Six defense companies were supposed to compete in the competition, from which the Leidos concern was finally chosen, which you may know from the fact that its branch Dynetics is one of the entities competing for the contract for the lunar lander.
The company was awarded a six-year, $334 million contract to research and develop the Expendable Hypersonic Multi-Mission ISR and Strike program, also known as the glamorous “Mayhem.” Work is to be carried out primarily at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and the Leidos-developed vehicle is expected to reach speeds well in excess of Mach 5.
Waiting for scramjet
The most interesting element of the whole project is, of course, the thrust engine, which uses air from the atmosphere and burns fuel in a supersonic combustion chamber. These are very demanding designs, where the problems of materials and cooling are even more difficult to solve than in space rockets.
Creating them is such a challenge that we still have no evidence that anyone has such a design ready for mass production. At the last meeting with military leaders, Putin boasted that the 3M22 Zircon tests were successfully completed and production would begin in 2023, but there were so many space lies and nonsense that I personally remain skeptical.
The Americans, who a year ago considered themselves very backward on the hypersonic topic, are once again showing what extensive research and development capabilities and modern industry can achieve if properly mobilized. Over the past year, their defense industry has ramped up testing and resolved many issues with their existing projects, with new ones opening up every few months.
It seems that a meeting between Pentagon representatives and industry on this topic, which took place earlier this year, may have played a key role. Although some of the problems reported there are still not resolved, especially regarding the insufficient number of places where hypersonic weapons can be tested, it looks like the Americans can try out the leader’s jersey today.
Of course, this does not mean that we can already trumpet that hypersonic technologies have reached some kind of maturity. In my opinion, we are still just crawling along and I am convinced that there are still many unpleasant surprises waiting for all the participants of this fascinating race.