Building upon the demonstration success of the X-51A Waverider hypersonic research vehicle, the Air Force is exploring ideas for a weapons-suitable hypersonic missile platform. No specific program exists yet, but “there are a number of initiatives and plans in the works,” said Charles Brink, Air Force Research Lab’s X-51A program manager. The future vehicle could be a modified X-51 or a follow-on type, said Brink. “We are going to work on the technologies that are in the X-51 to start transitioning . . . to a more weapons-friendly design,” he said. The focus will be miniaturizing subsystems on the X-51, such as the vehicle’s engine-control computer, which was developed for the F-22, he told reporters during this week’s teleconference. Miniature, purpose-built systems based on off-the-shelf hardware would allow more “room for a warhead,” greater fuel loads, and even microwave payloads or electro-optical sensors, he said. X-51-type weaponization will commence next fiscal year, Steven Walker, science and technology lead in the Air Force Secretariat, told lawmakers earlier this month in written remarks. Walker said engineers will also look at “the ability to cold start the weapon after release from an aircraft.” (See also Waverider Set to Surf Again)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.