Hypersonic Flight: Time To Go Operational
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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Anti-Access and Area Denial threats are increasing and could jeopardize the ability of the US Air Force to effectively conduct global strike by 2032. Scramjet powered hypersonic flight could be a key capability by reducing time to strike and increasing survivability. Historically, the key challenges preventing hypersonic flight have been in the areas of propulsion, heat, plasma interference, and weapons employment. This paper examines the current status of these challenges and the potential to solve them for a hypersonic cruise missile application. In particular, the success of the X-43A and X-51A scramjet demonstrations are considered as establishing the foundation for a hypersonic cruise missile. While current technical maturity supports a cruise missile application, a hypersonic bomber would still be a high risk proposition and likely would be more expensive than a standoff bomber and hypersonic cruise missile combination. Recommendations include sustained research and development funding for hypersonic technology, a hypersonic cruise missile technical development program in support of a hypersonic cruise missile acquisition program, and sustained procurement of the missile to ensure a sufficient inventory is maintained.