Air Force to Lead US, Australia Push for Hypersonic Technology

Australia’s military will help the Pentagon pursue so-called “air-breathing” hypersonic weapons and more under the U.S.-run Allied Prototyping Initiative, the U.S. Defense Department said Nov. 30.

The Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) initiative “will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability,” Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said in a release.

It’s the second partnership created through the prototyping initiative since it launched last year. Norway became the first as part of a bilateral effort to pursue solid fuel ramjet technology.

Together, the U.S. and Australia will build full-size, long-range prototypes that ride air currents to fly shorter distances at five times the speed of sound or faster. Those weapons and aircraft are expected to be more maneuverable and harder to detect than earlier high-speed systems. America wants its first new missiles to be operational in the next few years.

Researchers plan to vet their designs through realistic flight demonstrations. The U.S. Air Force will run the program through its weapons program executive officer, Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins.

Collins told Air Force Magazine in September the service is pursuing a new, air-breathing Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile as one of its two top hypersonic weapons programs. The Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapon is the other big-ticket hypersonic project. Another air-breathing technology dubbed “Mayhem” would be larger than ARRW and could carry multiple types of payloads.

“The effort will also pursue potential co-production opportunities between the two countries, and leverages U.S. and Australian collaborative hypersonic activities over the last 15 years, namely the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program,” DOD said. “SCIFiRE continues collaborative research efforts involving the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force headquarters, and the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group.”

The Allied Prototyping Initiative is run by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering as a way to leverage industrial bases around the world and field new technologies faster. It aims to build international partnerships alongside tech objectives as part of the current National Defense Strategy, which pushes for the U.S. to be a leader in a global coalition that outpaces Russia and China.

“Working with our defense scientists here in Australia and our partners in the U.S. Air Force and across the U.S. Department of Defense on leading edge capabilities brings out the best in our Air Force team,” Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Australia’s Chief of Air Force, said in the release.