Beyond the Hyper

The Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hope to start flying follow-ons to the X-51 hypersonic testbed circa 2018, Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, head of Air Force Research Laboratory, told Air Force Magazine in a Wednesday interview. “We’ve each invested about $300 million” in a project AFRL is calling the High Speed Strike Weapon, Masiello said. Two hypersonic vehicles are being explored: one is a waverider using technology like that of the X-51, which achieved 209 seconds of hypersonic flying in 2013. The other is called tactical boost-glide technology, “where there’s no scramjet power; you’re just basically taking a booster, accelerating it to hypersonic speed, then it glides to the target,” Masiello explained. If all goes well, he said, by 2020, “we could have the technology matured to the point of a program of record,” applying hypersonics to a cruise missile-type of weapon “with an acceptable level of risk.” Beyond that, by 2030, Masiello envisions a reusable platform that could be used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance work, which could be turned within days between missions. By “2040-plus” AFRL expects “a no-kidding, re-usable, persistent, penetrating hypersonic vehicle that could be manned or unmanned.”