By David Atkinson Defense Daily, 8/13/98
A report commissioned by the Air Force says that the service
will not be able to introduce a hypersonic missile system before
2015 at the current rate of development.
The Air Force Science and Technology Board of the National
Research Council's study of the problems of producing and
fielding a hypersonic (Mach 6-8) missile found the Air Force
lacks both the infrastructure to support such a development
and the defined operational requirements that would allow
research to go forward. The panel was asked to evaluate
whether the HyTech program could lead to an Initial
Operational Capability (IOC) of a scramjet-powered weapon
The Review and Evaluation of the Air Force Hypersonic
Technology Program (HyTech), says the program, which is
designed to investigate hypersonic flight regimes and associated
technologies, is not sufficient to lead to an operational capability.
The Air Force "is not developing several critical enabling
technologies for the realization of an operational hypersonic
air-to-surface weapon," the report says. HyTech is the Air
Force's only hypersonic missile technology development program.
In July, the Air Force and Navy started consideration of a
hypersonic development program based on a Mission Needs
Statement produced by the Navy (Defense Daily, July 17).
The joint program will have to be approved by the Air Force,
the Joint Staff, and the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight
Committee before development work can begin.
HyTech was initiated in 1995 at the then-Wright Laboratory
Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, to provide a research program on
hypersonic technologies following the cancellation of the National
Aerospace Plane concept in January of that year. The program
was funded at a fixed level of $20 million per year. Initial work
included both propulsion and airframe systems, but was
restructured in 1996 to concentrate solely on engine development.
The current goal of the program is to lead to a freejet ground test
of a hypersonic scramjet propulsion system by 2003.
The report laid out the
following hurdles to the
development of a
hypersonic missile before
the HyTech program includes
only limited ground testing of
propulsion systems, leaving
out flight testing to ensure
engine reliability and
durability of an
A proposed hypersonic attack platform (none of artwork
on this page was included with press release)
the HyTech program does not include critical technologies like
fuel systems, cooling systems, guidance and control systems,
integration, and warhead development;
the program, if expanded to include a full-scale flight test
program, could produce an operational system by 2015, but
only if an integrated, supported System Program Office were
the Air Force has not
laid out concrete operational requirements
or conducted any study of the trade-offs involved in hypersonic
the higher the speed of
the missile, the higher the risk involved.
The Air Force, without set parameters, may be pushing the speed
of the missile beyond what is needed, increasing complexity; and
existing ground test facilities support testing only up to Mach 7.
The Air Force will have to develop additional computational test
and range facilities to deal with hypersonic weapons.
Foreign Hypersonic Programs
The report points out that several other nations are currently
exploring hypersonic missiles for a variety of roles. No other country
currently fields a hypersonic system. Several countries, including
France, Russia, and Germany, have all initiated development of
Mach 4+ missile systems, with an eye to fielding operational systems
The Navy is studying a hypersonic replacement, called Fasthawk,
its Tomahawk cruise missile. The Fasthawk is planned to cruise at
Mach 4 and be capable of striking targets as deep as 12 feet
The report also pointed out that, even traveling at Mach 6,
hypersonic missile would still be vulnerable to technologically
feasible surface-to-air missile systems.
The Air Force, according to the report, has two options for developing the hypersonic concept. The first is to invest the resources to pursue a "broad range of technologies covering a variety of potential applications," which would then lead to an integrated system. The second option is to explore the evolutionary development of a weapon based on "established capabilities and clearly stated Air Force requirements."
In both cases, the report recommends the establishment of
program office to rationalize and oversee the development program and
develop a long-range plan to bring the weapons into service.
Until then, the technical problems involved and the limited
current efforts mean that the HyTech program is "not sufficient for
the development of a scramjet engine as an integral part of a missile
system," the report concluded.
Japanese hypersonic vehicle design.