For the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, blazing a trail in hypersonics has proved problematic. Now a decade-long program to demonstrate technology for prompt global strike is being wound down, with some hard lessons learned but no flight-test successes.
In its place, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) plans to switch its focus to shorter, tactical ranges and launch a hypersonics “initiative” to include flight demonstrations of an air-breathing cruise missile and unpowered boost-glide weapon. If approved, the demos could be conducted jointly with the U.S. Air Force, which is eager to follow the success of its X-51A scramjet demonstrator with a high-speed strike weapon program.
Darpa’s original plan for its Integrated Hypersonics (IH) project was to begin with a third attempt to fly the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works-designed HTV-2 unmanned hypersonic glider, after the first two launches in 2010 and 2011 failed just minutes into their Mach 20 flights across the Pacific. This was to be followed by a more capable Hypersonic X-plane that would have pushed performance even further.
For the complete story by Graham Warwick of Aviation Week, click here.