Editor’s Note: The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been developing new tech for the United States Air Force. Since the X-15 program concluded, not much has been (publicly) done with the lessons learned. The most recent examples would be the four test flights of the X-51 Waverider, only two of which have been successful to this point. But with China developing their own hypersonic weapons technology–namely their DF-ZF, and the Russians and Indians collaborating on BrahMos II, AFRL is putting a sense of urgency behind their efforts.

Hypersonic missiles could be here faster than you know it.

By 2020, the Air Force is likely to have operational prototypes ready for a program of record and testing to develop an operational unit, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

By the 2030s, the technology could have expanded beyond delivering warheads at speeds faster than sound to also include hypersonic intelligence and reconnaissance flights, he said.

The Air Force, Masiello said is focusing on “deliberate, incremental progress towards maturing this technology.”

AFRL: Hypersonic Missiles To Be Reality In 2020s
The BrahMos Mark II, under joint development by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia, which have together formed BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited. (photo courtesy of jithincc.wordpress.com)

“We’re looking for more singles, base hits, versus trying to go for a home run,” he said.

Speaking at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida., Masiello described the efforts the service is undertaking to develop engines that could travel at or above the widely accepted hypersonic range of Mach 5.

Between 2010 and 2013, the Air Force conducted four flights of the X-51, an experimental hypersonic cruise missile. The first and fourth flights were considered a success, but the engine failed to ignite in the second test flight, and a stabilizing fin broke off during the third flight.

Masiello said that the failures were more informative than the successes in figuring out what to do next and how to advance the technology.

“You have to build an environment that allows failure, because if you don’t, you’re not going to be pushing the boundaries of technology,” he said.

America has already developed hypersonic technology, most famously in the X-15 experimental test plane that saw operation in the 1960s.

Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke, ret., the former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, lamented the fact that hypersonic research largely came to a halt when the X-15 was retired.

“We dropped everything and moved to something else and we lost our momentum,” he said.

You can see the full article at the Air Force Times here.

(Featured photo by Bobby Zapka/AFRL)