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Rattlrs Strikes Fast

by hambling on September 9, 2006

Cruise missiles are about to get a lot more lethal, thanks to a Navy program called Revolutionary Approach to Time-Critical Long-Range Strike, or Rattlrs. Lockheed Martin and Rolls-Royce North America have a $120-million contract to build a hypersonic missile demonstrator “with trace-ability to an eventual tactical weapon,” says Craig Johnston, the Lockheed Martin program manager. First flight is slated for November 2007.
RATTLRS art.JPGOlder cruise missiles such as the Navy’s sea-launched Tomahawk and the Air Force’s Air-Launched Cruise Missile putter along at subsonic speeds, too slow to hit fleeting targets such as terrorist convoys. Rattlrs, by contrast, is a “near hypersonic” vehicle capable of speeds up to Mach 4. The demonstrator is aiming for a five– to 15-minute flight time. “To put that in perspective, that’s on the order of a 500-mile range,” Johnston says. The production version might have even longer legs.
But getting to that level of capability won’t be easy.
“The challenge is to fit all of the required techs — engine, flow-path, airframe, avionics — into a package that is the size of a cruise missile,” Johnston says.
Mach 4 speed normally requires a two-stage vehicle with a scramjet second stage. But Rattlrs is aiming for a single-stage turbine engine in order to keep the vehicle small. That means some creative engineering and materials science.
“Temperature is what drives efficiency in turbine engines,” says Bob Grude, the Rolls-Royce manager. “We have some special techniques using materials called ‘LAM alloys’ [as well as] existing high-temperature materials, with a cooling system that allows us to operate the burner at much higher temps than normal.“
Affordability is one of Rattlrs’ goals, according to Johnston. “The objective on Rattlrs is an integrated system that pulls all same elements of current cruise missiles at greater than three times the speed with no premium — to put it all into the same cost. Much of tech that is being developed, specifically in the engine area, is a careful balance between a maximum degree of expendability and [adaptability] for reusable vehicles that want to have a long lifetime.“
In other words, Rattlrs won’t just produce a better cruise missile; it’ll feed tech into other hypersonics programs too. “We’re in a sense enabling the turbine side of an eventual hypersonic solution [to several problems],” Johnston says.
Rattlrs is just one in a billion-dollar portfolio of hypersonics programs that, in the next 20 years, might revolutionize air combat, commercial air travel and space ops. The most dramatic outgrowth of these programs is the Marine Corps’ squad space transport. Much more on that and other hypersonics programs later …
David Axe

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

John September 9, 2006 at 8:29 pm

Looks a bit like the front of a Talos.
The Bendix SAM-N-8/RIM-50 Typhon LR from the early 60′s hits the Mach 4 with 200 mile range.


Robot Economist September 10, 2006 at 8:58 am

While hypersonic engines is definitely an area that could afford more research dollars, the justification for RATTLRS seems dubious. 550 mph isn’t fast enough to catch a terrorist convoy? Since when do terrorists own rocket cars or jets?
Seems like the Navy is bent on chasing the phantom threats used to justify Rumsfeld’s “Prompt Global Strike” scenario. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more effective for them to pour some money directly into applied research on hypersonics while putting the rest into a UCAV demonstrator? UCAV’s are most effective at subsonic speeds, which allow them to loiter over or near target areas.
I am really worried that the Rumsfeld/Andy Marshall view of the military’s future (lots of fast, long-range, rapid-reaction weapons platforms) will hurt its effectiveness. Over emphasizing long-range technology underplays how critical the human element of warfighting really is. I’m afraid people are thinking we can return to the “American Way of War” in the 1990s with just the right technology.
I’m also pretty dubious of the cost estimates I’ve seen on some of these pieces of kit. As much as the DOD would like to see the last few years of budget increases as permanent, I think they will be in for a big surprise around 2008-2010.


Moose September 11, 2006 at 10:55 am

Robot, there are all too often targets of opportunity in warfare with a vulnerable window of MINUTES. A conventional aircraft or cruise missile simply can’t cover enough territory fast enough to strike them, unless it just happens to be overhead already. A target doesn’t need rocket cars, the distance he can travel in a Land Cruiser during the flight of a Tomahawk can put him out of reach. This is why Armed Predators came into being, becuase the people flying the drones were previously unable to hit the targets they were staring at before the target got out of sight. So Rattlr gives similar capacity to hit targets without needing a Predator or UCAV already in the area.


howard December 8, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Looks a bit like the front of a Talos.
The Bendix SAM-N-8/RIM-50 Typhon LR from the early 60′s hits the Mach 4 with 200 mile range.
Posted by: John at September 9, 2006 08:29 PM
yes John… i am constantly amazed at how the US military creates designs, puts them into production, scraps them and starts over again, and comes up with something that might be as capable.
i have a few friends who have done DOD work in their lives and they tell me that the greatest single issue is the unwillingness of the military guys to make a design better. IF they had just improved the speed and range of the Talos system, they would already have the majority of what this ‘RATTLRS’ thing seeks to accomplish.


Jeff_F_F February 4, 2007 at 9:22 pm

If it is going mach 4+ on the way up, when it comes back down it will be going almost as fast. now all you need is a hardened nose cone and a thermobaric warhead to make one impressive bunker buster.


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Airdale1956 April 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm

This is nothing more than a souped up Lockheed D-21 Drone from the A-12 & SR-71 era. Using current technologies. IMHO


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