In an article published by the U.S. Air Force, Lt. Col. Sharon Evans discusses a meeting between senior U.S. Air Force leaders. Discussed at the meeting was the immediate need to accelerate hypersonic development. Development of such technology is critical because near-peer countries are already testing hypersonic weapons.
Air Force senior leaders met to consider options to accelerate hypersonics research and development to break even more speed barriers and ensure continued technological superiority.
Hypersonics refers to flying at five times the speed of sound, also known as “Mach 5,” or higher. From an Air Force perspective, it is a game-changing capability which can amplify many of the enduring attributes of airpower including speed, range, flexibility and precision.
“We must push the boundaries of technology in every area,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “Our adversaries aren’t standing still. They are looking for every advantage they can get.”
A recent Air Force Studies Board report identified that the U.S. is not alone in its quest for this increased speed. For example, China and Russia are already flight testing hypersonic weapons, and several other countries have shown interest in pursuing many of the underlying technologies for hypersonic flight.
“We have a real sense of urgency,” said Dr. Greg Zacharias, the Air Force chief scientist. “The acting secretary directed this discussion as a call to arms to maintain our heritage of excellence in this area.”
The discussions this week formulated a common understanding of the potential for hypersonics as a future operational game changer for both the U.S. and its potential adversaries.
“We’re accelerating our research in this area,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa S. Disbrow. “The benefits of this technology for our nation’s defense are wide ranging, from offensive capabilities to defensive systems. This is a high priority for the USAF.”
“We also laid the groundwork for a longer term coordinated effort in policy, operational concepts, science and technology efforts, acquisition, and test and evaluation,” Zacharias said.
Foundational work for reaching an operational hypersonic capability has been long in the works. Over the years, the Air Force and other partners have researched a number of concepts to reach hypersonic speeds. One involved a “boost-glide” concept. This concept involves a ballistic launch to high speed with a subsequent unpowered glide flight path to the target. Another concept is an air-launch enabled vehicle propelled by its own rocket, ramjet, or scramjet.
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