US Air Force Working furiously to Develop Hypersonics of various Sorts–while it tries to Figure Out what they’re actually for, or, “Mayhem”

Further to this post,

Pentagon Going Hyper over Hypersonics, Part 2

the USAF is gung-ho to get them into service whilst it tries to figure out a concept of operations (CONOPS) for their actual use if necessary. Rather an odd way to develop and deploy expensive, unproven, weapons that will have serious strategic implications with respect to both the PRC and Russia. Both those countries are also working hard to put hypersonic capabilities into service but is that circumstance by itself sufficient to justify a production rush by the USAF? (And the other US services, see: “How the DoD plans to meet its ambitious hypersonic missile test schedule“.).

Especially as with that rush there will be serious complications, to put it nicely, for further efforts (by whom?) at arms control as hypersonics do become military facts.

Moreover it seems pretty clear the Russians and Chinese will have nukes on at least some of theirs. Will those people not think the US might also put nukes on its missiles too even if the Americans now say they do not intend to? Talk about, er, instability:

ARRW To Mayhem To The Future Of Hypersonic Operations

“How are we going to employ hypersonic weapons, what do they bring to the battlefield?,” asks Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, commander of the 8th Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center.

The Air Force is still trying to craft its concept of operations (CONOPS) for hypersonic missiles — with the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) providing the service’s first opportunity for real-world assessment…

ARRW, a boost-glide powered missile, would be the first wave of hypersonics, followed by air-breathing missiles — including the Air Force Research Laboratory’s latest concept for a scramjet-powered missile to be carried on fighter jets. It’s being developed under the new Expendable Hypersonic Multi-Mission Air-Breathing Demonstrator (Mayhem) Program…

Weatherington said that the rolling delivery of multiple types of hypersonic weapons is a “good thing” because it will allow the Air Force to figure out the best mix of those optimized for delivery by bomber aircraft and those optimized by fighters. There are, he said, a whole host of questions to be answered.

“How are we going to employ hypersonic weapons? What do they bring to the battlefield? What are our considerations for planning and executing and integrating them in a fight? … How do we understand the target, where it’s at, where it may be going, and make sure we can we can close that kill chain on a particular target?”..

How much of this working towards an actual purpose will Congress, especially if at least one chamber is controlled by Democrats, be willing to fund in the time of vast COVID-19 expenditures and deficits?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

12 thoughts on “US Air Force Working furiously to Develop Hypersonics of various Sorts–while it tries to Figure Out what they’re actually for, or, “Mayhem””

  1. As for the USAF more broadly, two stories on the new top general declaring the need really to shake things up (as the US Navy and Marines are saying about themselves too–US services really feeling the heat from the PRC/PLA):



    Mark Collins


  2. Sure look to me that this hypersonic could be pretty destabilizing in the absence of arms control and missile defences (further links at original):

    ‘Air Force Says New Hypersonic Missile Will Hit Targets 1,000 Miles Away In Under 12 Minutes
    An Air Force Global Strike Command official has given us an indication of how fast the Air Force’s new Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon will fly.

    The U.S. Air Force says the hypersonic boost-glide vehicle warhead in its forthcoming AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon hypersonic missile will fly at an average speed of between 5,000 and 6,000 miles per hour. This would be roughly between Mach 6.5 and Mach 8. At that speed, it will take only 10 to 12 minutes to strike targets 1,000 miles away. Air Force Major General Andrew Gebara, Air Force Global Strike Command’s (AFGSC) Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements, disclosed the information in an interview with Air Force Magazine.

    Expected to be the first hypersonic weapon to become operational with the U.S. military, the Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon, or ARRW, which is pronounced “arrow,” will be carried by the command’s B-52H strategic bombers.

    “This thing is going to be able to go, in 10-12 minutes, almost 1,000 miles,” Gebara said in the interview, which you can read in full here. “It’s amazing.”..

    The Air Force plans to buy at least eight prototype ARRWs, some of which could potentially be used to field a limited operational arsenal of these weapons in the coming years. The service’s present goal is to reach initial operational capability with the weapon in September 2022.

    However, the program is already running behind schedule and this timeline might not be met. It has seen costs spiral by nearly 40 percent and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog, has warned there could be further delays…

    Gebara also confirmed that the B-52 will be able to carry two ARRWs on each of its two underwing pylons. A four-missile load-out is something that we previously anticipated here…

    Regardless of which platform carries the ARRW, it’s clear that it will provide the Air Force with a significantly enhanced short or no-notice strike capability, especially against time-critical or otherwise high-value and highly defended targets — providing the next phase of test work proves successful. Combined with its speed and level atmospheric flight profile, the boost-glide vehicle will be able to maneuver in flight, making it even tougher for hostile air defenses to defeat. We explained more about the advances offered by hypersonic weapons in this previous article.

    We also now know ARRW has a range of at least 1,000 miles, which will allow its launch platform to remain outside the reach of hostile defenses, at least in most cases.

    It’s an area in which the United States is now concentrating its efforts in a bid to match similar developments in both China and Russia…’

    Mark Collins


  3. Trump’s (current) national security adviser furiously wants US Navy to go big on hypersonics too–we’ll see what happens:

    ‘All US Navy destroyers will get hypersonic missiles, says Trump’s national security adviser

    The U.S. Navy plans to put hypersonic missiles on all Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, President Donald Trump’s top national security official said Wednesday.

    The Navy wants to field hypersonic missiles first on the Virginia-class attack submarine, then on the new Zumwalt-class destroyers, and then finally across the Burkes, national security adviser Robert O’Brien told an audience at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine.

    “The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program will provide hypersonic missile capability to hold targets at risk from longer ranges,” O’Brien said in prepared remarks. “This capability will be deployed first on our newer Virginia-class submarines and the Zumwalt-class destroyers. Eventually, all three flights of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will field this capability.”

    The Navy has discussed back-fitting some of the older Burke-class destroyers, but putting them on all three flights, including ships dating back to the early 1990s, would be a massive expansion of the capability in the surface fleet. The current launchers are not large enough to accommodate the larger diameter missiles.

    Swapping out the launchers on all the destroyers would be a significant expense and would likely tie up shipyards for years to come. An alterative to back-fitting the older destroyers would be waiting for a smaller hypersonic missile to be developed, such as an air-breathing model, as opposed to the boost-glide design.

    How to get more firepower on ships is a crucial push for the Navy as it considers the challenge of keeping China at arms length in the Asia-Pacific region. Another idea under consideration is to put larger Vertical Launching System cells on the next-generation surface combatant…’

    Mark Collins


  4. Congressional Research Service (part of Library of Congress) on hypersonics–note the critical questions at end, very relevant to post above:

    “The United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons—maneuvering weapons that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5—as a part of its conventional prompt global strike program since the early 2000s. In recent years, the United States has focused such efforts on developing hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target, and hypersonic cruise missiles, which are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines during flight. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten has stated, these weapons could enable “responsive, long-range, strike options against distant, defended, and/or time-critical threats [such as road-mobile missiles] when other forces are unavailable, denied access, or not preferred.” Critics, on the other hand, contend that hypersonic weapons lack defined mission requirements, contribute little to U.S. military capability, and are unnecessary for deterrence.

    Funding for hypersonic weapons has been relatively restrained in the past; however, both the Pentagon and Congress have shown a growing interest in pursuing the development and near-term deployment of hypersonic systems. This is due, in part, to the growing interest in these technologies in Russia and China, both of which have a number of hypersonic weapons programs and are expected to field an operational hypersonic glide vehicle—potentially armed with nuclear warheads—as early as 2020. Most U.S. hypersonic weapons, in contrast to those in Russia and China, are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, U.S. hypersonic weapons will likely require greater accuracy and will be more technically challenging to develop than nuclear-armed Chinese and Russian systems.

    The Pentagon’s FY2021 budget request for all hypersonic-related research is $3.2 billion—up from $2.6 billion in the FY2020 request—including $206.8 million for hypersonic defense programs. At present, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not established any programs of record for hypersonic weapons, suggesting that it may not have approved either requirements for the systems or long-term funding plans. Indeed, as Assistant Director for Hypersonics (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering) Mike White has stated, DOD has not yet made a decision to acquire hypersonic weapons and is instead developing prototypes to assist in the evaluation of potential weapon system concepts and mission sets.

    As Congress reviews the Pentagon’s plans for U.S. hypersonic weapons programs, it might consider questions about the rationale for hypersonic weapons, their expected costs, and their implications for strategic stability and arms control. Potential questions include the following:

    *What mission(s) will hypersonic weapons be used for? Are hypersonic weapons the most cost-effective means of executing these potential missions? How will they be incorporated into joint operational doctrine and concepts?

    *Given the lack of defined mission requirements for hypersonic weapons, how should Congress evaluate funding requests for hypersonic weapons programs or the balance of funding requests for hypersonic weapons programs, enabling technologies, and supporting test infrastructure? Is an acceleration of research on hypersonic weapons, enabling technologies, or hypersonic missile defense options both necessary and technologically feasible?

    *How, if at all, will the fielding of hypersonic weapons affect strategic stability?

    * Is there a need for risk-mitigation measures, such as expanding New START, negotiating new multilateral arms control agreements, or undertaking transparency and confidence-building activities?”

    Mark Collins


  5. Aussies want in on the hypersonics party, want to make their own for RAAF:

    ‘Australia Teams Up With U.S. To Get Hypersonic Missiles For Its Super Hornets In Five Years
    Plans call for the rapid prototyping of a new air-breathing long-range missile for the Royal Australian Air Force.

    Australia is gearing up to start testing a new air-launched hypersonic missile “within months.” Details of the joint U.S.-Australian program are still emerging but point to a multi-million-dollar effort to develop an air-breathing, long-range missile that could ultimately be carried by a range of Royal Australian Air Force aircraft.

    The new weapon is due to be formally announced tomorrow and prototypes are being developed together with the United States under the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment, or SCIFiRE. Hypersonic weapons are generally understood to be capable of flying at least five times the speed of sound, giving them faster response time for striking critical targets and making them much harder to defend against than their slower counterparts.

    In an official release, the U.S. Department of Defense noted that “The SCIFiRE effort aims to cooperatively advance air-breathing hypersonic technologies into full-size prototypes that are affordable and provide a flexible, long-range capability, culminating in flight demonstrations in operationally relevant conditions.”

    “Developing this game-changing capability with the United States from an early stage is providing opportunities for Australian industry,” said Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds. “Investing in capabilities that deter actions against Australia also benefits our region, our allies, and our security partners. We remain committed to peace and stability in the region, and an open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”..’

    Mark Collins


  6. Early December:

    “Air-Breathing, High-Speed Propulsion To Make 2021 Comeback

    A comeback attempt for the use of missiles powered by scramjets and solid-fuel ramjets will highlight a dizzying year for development and testing of the most advanced long-range weapons.

    Two versions of DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) are set to perform the first powered flights of a scramjet engine since the final flight of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) X-51A Waverider in 2013.

    The planned flight tests of competing HAWC demonstrators designed by Lockheed Martin/Aerojet Rocketdyne and Raytheon/Northrop Grumman teams merely constitute the first step in the Pentagon’s plans to deliver to the field the first operational prototypes of scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missiles in five years.

    The follow-on Hypersonic Air-Breathing Cruise Missile (HACM) program has the goal of establishing a long-term competition among the two HAWC competitors and possibly Boeing. In November, the Joint Hypersonic Transition Office funded Boeing to complete a preliminary design and mature the propulsion system for HyFly 2. The original HyFly experimental program ended disappointingly in 2010 but featured a dual-mode ramjet optimized to fit on the Navy’s weapons elevators aboard aircraft carriers.

    Separately, the U.S. Defense Department announced a partnership with the Australian military on Nov. 30 to develop full-size prototypes within five years for another air-breathing hypersonic technology.

    Taking inspiration from the 15-year collaboration on the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program, it is possible the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) will see continued development of hydrogen-fueled scramjet engines for new hypersonic missiles.

    As the Pentagon labors to solve the tyranny of distance and sophisticated air defense, novel concepts that promise the potential of extending the range and speed of future missiles are enjoying support.

    Some are racing to enter service within two years. The Air Force’s Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) was set for its first powered flight test in late December. Within the next 12 months, the Army and Navy plan to demonstrate the first Block 1 Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB), along with a prototype of the 34-in.-dia. two-stage rocket stack of the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW). The ARRW and LRHW are due to enter service by fiscal 2023, followed two years later by the Navy’s sea-launched Conventional Prompt Strike missile, which also features the CHGB.

    Air-breathing propulsion concepts also are being developed to extend the range of the Army’s artillery projectiles. On Nov. 30, Northrop Grumman announced completion of a round of testing on a solid fuel ramjet, the critical technology for the XM1155 Extended-Range Artillery Projectile…

    Mark Collins


  7. USAF moving fast:

    ‘Roper: ARRW Hypersonic Missile Will Fly This Month

    The Air Force will flight test the U.S. military’s first hypersonic missile this month, Air Force acquisition boss Will Roper said Dec. 14 at the inaugural Doolittle Leadership Center Forum. But while having a hypersonic weapon is an achievement, Roper added, it is not a full solution to the challenges posed by increasingly capable peer adversaries.

    Roper’s comments came during a conversation with Air Force Association President and retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright at an event titled “From Acquisition to Lethality.” That event featured a three-general panel with top leaders from Air Force Materiel Command, who spoke from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The forum was produced in partnership with AFA’s Wright Memorial Chapter there.

    The AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) beat out the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon as prototyping progressed, and it completed captive-carry testing earlier this year. The first planned booster test flight is expected this month with production beginning next year, Roper said.

    Hypersonic capabilities will give the Air Force a valuable stand-off strike option, but may not be quite as crucial to U.S. defense strategy as it was to China’s, Roper said. He pointed to Chinese development to counter U.S. missile defense systems, which are not designed to take on maneuverable, ultra-fast weapons.

    Hypersonic weapons development “fundamentally challenges the principle of ballistic missile defense by making the missile non-ballistic,” he said. Those missiles fly lower, using the curvature of the Earth and quick movements to blind defenses to their approach.

    “As we field the first hypersonic weapon, and I’m excited we’re doing that, it doesn’t undercut this investment our adversaries have, nor take away the principle of safety that I would expect they hold,” Roper said. “The U.S. has exceptional capabilities, especially in stealth aircraft that can penetrate and put weapons where they wish. So do our adversaries believe we don’t have the ability to target them? I would hope not. Hypersonic weapons just then become another way to do it.”

    While stealth weapons provide the U.S. a strategic advantage in penetrated air defenses, hypersonic capability enables a conventional B-52 bomber to stand off at a distance while attacking a well-defended target. In conflict with a country like China, this combination presents “a landscape of problems.”

    ARRW was tested this year with the B-52H, and Air Force Global Strike Command expects to also equip the B-1B to carry it. Roper said earlier this year it also could be carried on the F-15. Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, Roper’s military deputy and top USAF uniformed acquisition officer, said Dec. 3 that developing ARRW as a rapid prototype meant the missile will receive operational capability in 2022—five years earlier than if it was a traditional program…’

    Mark Collins


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