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The US Is Developing A Hypersonic Drone SR-72

Hypersonic missiles are a real high-tech on the international arms market, but hypersonic technologies are in demand not only in rocketry. Many countries around the world have developed or continue to develop projects of hypersonic aircraft. In the United States, work has been underway for several years on a project for an unmanned hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft known as the SR-72. Most likely, this UAV is considered as a shock one.

This project is called the reincarnation or the son of the famous strategic supersonic high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (“Blackbird”). The aircraft, which was officially decommissioned in 1998, could fly at an altitude of 25 kilometers, while developing a speed of up to 3300 km / h. The combination of high altitude and flight speed made this aircraft a very difficult target for all air defense systems. The main anti-aircraft missile evasion maneuver for the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft was rapid acceleration and climb.

The main advantages of hypersonic aviation

There are clear and obvious advantages to hypersonic aircraft. The most important thing is high flight speed. The strategic American reconnaissance aircraft SR-71 could temporarily reach speeds of up to 3500 km / h. This, in combination with the high flight altitude, made the vehicle practically invulnerable to any ωεɑρσռs that existed at that time. And here we are not talking about a hypersonic model, but simply about a very fast supersonic aircraft.

Due to its characteristics, the reconnaissance aircraft could successfully break through the enemy’s air defense system. At the time of its appearance and for a long time, the SR-71 was indeed invulnerable. The operation of the aircraft began in 1966. The Blackbird remained the only aircraft that was never ѕhσt dσwn by the air defense systems of North Vietnam. Worthy rivals for the SR-71 were the Soviet supersonic interceptors MiG-25 and MiG-31, which appeared as a response to American developments. Both fighter-interceptors had in their service record successful interceptions of SR-71s near the borders of the USSR. Modern air defense systems, primarily such as the S-300, also left no chance for the American reconnaissance officer. Therefore, the military in the United States still refused to operate the aircraft, which, among other things, was very expensive to maintain.

By creating a hypersonic unmanned reconnaissance aircraft / bσmbҽr, the Americans expect to repeat the initial success of the SR-71, but at a new technological level. Many experts, as well as adherents of the development of hypersonic aviation note that hypersonic speed is the new invisibility. There is a grain of truth in this, tested by time. As missiles and radars become more sophisticated, airspeed can again come to the fore.

The survivability of stealth aircraft is high, but they are also vulnerable to modern ωεɑρσռs. Under these conditions, a high flight speed and the ability to maneuver at that speed can again become an important means of protecting an aircraft. At least in the United States, a rivalry between these concepts seems to have begun. Since until recently, all military developments in America were based on the principles of stealth.

An important advantage resulting from the high flight speed is the ability to quickly enter and exit the dangerous affected area. In addition, hypersonic speed allows you to travel long distances in a short time. With a flight speed of Mach 6, the drone could take off from bases located in the continental United States and hit targets by flying across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean in about 90 minutes.

What is known about the SR-72 project

The first unofficial and unconfirmed reports about the SR-72 project, which engineers at Lockheed Martin are working on, appeared back in 2007. According to information leaked to the media, it was about the development of an aircraft capable of flying at hypersonic speed – about Mach 6 (7200 km / h). The declared flight speed has been confirmed in the future by all subsequent materials and comments from representatives of Lockheed Martin.

The official recognition of the work on the project took place on November 1, 2013. Then the representatives of the Skunk Works company (a division of Lockheed Martin engaged in the development of advanced military equipment) published news on the program to create a successor to the strategic reconnaissance aircraft SR-71 Blackbird in the magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Render of the hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft SR-72

In the same article, it was indicated that the new reconnaissance aircraft, which is being created under the designation SR-72, has approximately the same dimensions as the record-breaking SR-71 Blackbird aircraft. At the same time, the novelty will be able to fly twice as fast as its distant relative, which still holds a number of speed records. For clarity, we present the geometric dimensions of the “Blackbird”: length – 32,74 m, wingspan – 16,94 m, height – 5,64 m, wing area – 141,1 square meters. m.

It is known that the project to create a hypersonic aircraft is very ambitious and difficult. Serial samples of such equipment have not yet been created. So, in 2017, representatives of the Lockheed Martin company said that the SR-72 would be fully developed by the beginning of 2020, and the delivery of the aircraft into service would begin by the early 2030s. But a year later, the company issued a new statement announcing that the project was progressing slowly due to the complexity of solving the technical challenges facing engineers.

Now the timing of the creation and flight of the prototype of the technology demonstrator is expected no earlier than 2023, and the full-scale introduction of the novelty into operation in the 2030s. In some American sources, citing representatives of the developer company, it is said that the flight of a prototype of a promising reconnaissance and strike platform is not planned until 2025. So far, all that Lockheed Martin has demonstrated are renderings of a promising aircraft.

The new reconnaissance unmanned aircraft, which the American press also endows with strike capabilities, will be able to reach speeds of up to Mach 6. Among other things, it is specified that it may be able to carry hypersonic missiles. At the same time, the problem in creating aircraft that are so ahead of the speed of sound is not to create an aircraft that would accelerate to hypersonic speed, but to provide it with the ability to take off and land at much lower speeds. The main problem here is the propulsion system and its composition.

The only one in stories manned hypersonic aircraft – American experimental X-15. This experimental hypersonic rocket plane made its first flight back in 1959. The device was able to perform suborbital space flights, reaching an altitude of 108 km and developing a speed of Mach 6,7 in flight. But the strategic bσmbҽr B-52 lifted it into the sky. Ground tests of SRM solid rocket engine for new hypersonic missile, joint project of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman

Lockheed Martin has previously stated that it has worked with Aerojet Rocketdyne to make a real breakthrough with a combined cycle engine. The power plant of the SR-72 should include two standard turbojet engines that will operate at flight speeds of less than Mach 3 and a hypersonic ramjet engine (scramjet engine) designed to perform hypersonic flights. Scramjet engines can create the necessary thrust due to air intake during flights at supersonic speeds. This means that separate engines are needed for the aircraft to reach these speeds before the scramjet can fully operate. It is not known whether the SR-72 power plant is actually ready.

SR-72 is a very expensive and ambitious project

The coronavirus pandemic negatively affected the economic component of the project. The costs of this ambitious program are enormous. In 2016, the CEO of Lockheed Martin said it would take $ 22 billion to build a demonstration hypersonic drone the size of an F-XNUMX fighter jet. So far, all Lockheed Martin activities are aimed at obtaining additional funding. The concept of a hypersonic unmanned aircraft is being implemented in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA, which specializes in financing projects with advanced technologies, often far ahead of the capabilities of the industry and the needs of the Air Force itself.

It is quite obvious that no army in the world would voluntarily give up the possibility of having a hypersonic cσmbat aircraft. The US Air Force is no exception in this regard. But at the same time, for the near term, the budget of the US Air Force is loaded with the purchase of a large number of new fifth-generation F-35 fighter-bσmbҽrs, which are also created by engineers of Lockheed Martin, and the acquisition of the promising B-21 Raiders stealth bσmbҽr.

In these conditions, it will be very problematic to find the necessary funding for the implementation of a very expensive concept, which is an avant-garde scientific project. True, even if the project is not implemented in the form of a technology demonstrator, Lockheed Martin specialists will in any case gain valuable experience in the field of creating hypersonic aviation or knocking money out of the American budget.