Slowly Gaining Speed

Hypersonic technology such as that successfully demonstrated in the flight of the fourth and final X-51A vehicle over the Pacific Ocean earlier this month would bolster the effectiveness of a future strike missile design, said Charlie Brink, the Air Force’s X-51A program manager, on Thursday. The May 1 flight of the X-51 was the longest ever air-breathing hypersonic flight, as the scramjet-powered vehicle reached Mach 5.1 while traveling more than 200 nautical miles in slightly more than six minutes of travel time. Briefing reporters on May 9, Brink said the ability to achieve such greater speed compared to a subsonic cruise missile of today would “enhance the survivability” of a strike weapon as it enters enemy territory. That speed would also allow for much greater responsiveness in reaching targets, he said. “If you can get something that flies six times” the speed of a subsonic cruise missile, “instead of taking an hour to hit that target, it might only take 10 minutes,” explained Brink. “That kind of capability that can take out air defenses or high-value targets would be a great benefit to the warfighter.” Fielding such a strike missile will still take years, however. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Brink.