US Hypersonic Missile Programs Are an SLS-Like Failure

Australia and the United States signed a collaborative agreement to develop and test hypersonic cruise missile prototypes under the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE).

The US hypersonic missile programs seem to be like the SLS (Space Launch System). The US hypersonic missile program and the SLS are not delivering consistently successful tests or deploying successful systems. China and Russia have deployed basic hypersonic missiles. The US is spending $15 billion between 2015-2024 and more money was spent before 2015. Prior to 2005, the argument was that hypersonic missiles were to hard and complicated. The US kept pursuing complex triple engine solutions. China and Russia chose to not have two other engines in the mach 0-3 stage and another for the mach 4-5 stage. China and Russia went for a rocket to get the hypersonic stage to mach 5+.

I think the US hypersonic program not succeeding because it is like Boeing failing to deliver the super heavy SLS rocket (space launch system) after 11+ years. The SLS rocket should have been straightforward by reconfiguring a Space Shuttle into an Apollo rocket stack. Boeing and other old school space and military companies have had major problems delivering new military planes and have not made new rockets for 20 years.

Lockheed and other old school US military contractors are failing to deliver on doable technology. Boeing has had basic troubles with its main passenger aircraft (737, 777 and 787). Lockheed Martin has had all kinds of problems with its F35 stealth fighter jets.

The F35 was supposed to be a lightweight and low-cost stealth fighter to take the place of the F-22 and F1-6s. In 2021, the U.S. Air Force’s top officer said the air force will develop affordable, lightweight fighter to replace hundreds of Cold War-vintage F-16s. This was the plan twenty years ago for the F35.

Costs keep skyrocketing and military programs keep failing to deliver and if they do deliver then there are far higher costs and far more problems. There are reasons and excuses but the clear pattern is decades of failure.

The SCIFiRE Program proudly states that it is based on more than 15 years of collaboration between Australia and the United States on science and technology research into hypersonic scramjets, rocket motors, sensors, and advanced manufacturing materials. This also means 15+ years without delivering working systems.

The new weapon will be a Mach 5-class precision strike missile that is propulsion-launched and powered by an air-breathing scramjet engine. It will be capable of being carried by tactical fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-35A Lightning II, as well as the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

SCIFiRE intends to demonstrate an operational hypersonic cruise missile through two to four flight tests.

Hypersonic cruise missiles would be smaller than the boost-glide systems that use conventional rocket boosters to accelerate the weapon to Mach 5-plus, after which the glide body containing the warhead detaches from the booster and coasts.

In July, the Lockheed Martin AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) failed a second flight test because its motor failed to ignite.

The Air Force is seeking about $161 million in fiscal 2022 to produce the first 12 ARRW missiles. However, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee earlier this month cut $44 million (four missiles) from the service’s budget request.

China and Russia have been able to deploy hypersonic missiles. Russian already has deployed two hypersonic missiles. The Avangard is a nuclear-capable missile that can fly at 20 times the speed of sound (mach 20). The Kinzhal is also a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile fielded first in December 2017. China has the DF-17 missile.

The SpaceX Starship could become a mach 20 8000 mile range hypersonic bomber with 100 tons of payload.

The overall US hypersonic weapons program has requested $3.8 billion for 2022 which is almost 20 percent more than the Trump administration’s allocation of $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2021. The U.S. Government Accountability Office on hypersonics noted that there are 70 programs to develop hypersonic weapons and related technologies that are estimated to cost almost $15 billion from fiscal years 2015 through 2024 most of which belong to the Department of Defense.

SOURCES – the Diplomat, Breaking Defense
Written by Brian Wang,

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