Beyond Perpetually Promising

Hypersonics and directed energy have exited the realm of the perpetually promising and will soon become programs of record, said Air Force Research Lab Commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello on Tuesday. The success of the X-51 demonstrator program proved “hypersonics and scramjets are real” and could, by the early 2020s, be adapted into standoff weapons, he said in his speech at AFA’s Air & Space Conference outside Washington, D.C. By the 2030s, he sees hypersonic platforms for potential “deep strike of high-value targets” or for intelligence-gathering work. By the 2040s, a “reusable, persistent” hypersonic vehicle could be manned or unmanned, he said. As for lasers, the Air Force has moved beyond the “flying HAZMAT,” or hazardous materials, approach of chemical lasers and has broken new ground in electric, or solid-state lasers, said Masiello. By 2022, he anticipates a podded system on a fighter capable of “tens of kilowatts” of power, and by the late 2020s, a packaged system that could fit in a fighter with 100 kilowatts or more of power. Steerable, high-powered microwaves with the ability to precisely knock out the electronics in a building or chemical lab blockhouse have already been demonstrated aboard a cruise missile in the CHAMP program, said Masiello. That technology “is here now,” he said.