The technology being tested out in the Air Force’s X-51A Waverider hypersonic missile platform may soon shift from far-out tech to becoming an actual weapon, service officials revealed this week.
“There are a number of initiatives and plans in the works,” to shift “the technologies that are in the X-51A to start transitioning those technologies to a more weapons friendly design,” said Charlie Brink, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-51A program manager during a March 15 call with bloggers.
While none of these plans have been fleshed out into an official program of record to weaponize the X-51A, it could mean that we see a new generation of hypersonic weapons developed using the technology proven by the Waverider.
One example of this is the fact that the Air Force may look at shrinking certain parts found in the X-51A such as the engine control computer. Right now, the aircraft uses the same one found on the F-22. However, this is a bit overkill according to Brink, who described it as “bigger box and more robust computing capability” than needed to help guide a vehicle like the Waverider.
Instead, the service would like to see parts like that get smaller, freeing up more space for fuel, sensors and stuff that goes bang; like, you know, warheads.
“Those are the kind of technologies that we would like to start working on and integrating into a hypersonic demonstrator down the road,” said Brink.
He then confirmed that there is R&D money socked away to start working on how to do just that.
Eventually, the Air Force will decide whether or not to modify the X-51A airframe or use its technology as the basis for a new vehicle, he added. The service has a road map on how to come to this decision, he said.
Many have speculated that hypersonic vehicles like the X-51A could be used as a sort of super cruise missile to fulfill the Air Force’s requirement for a conventional weapon that can strike any target on earth from the continental U.S. in a matter of minutes or hours after the target is ID’d.
The Air Force is prepping for the second ever live-fire test shot of the X-51A on March 22. Last year, the X-51A took a 140 second flight at speeds up to Mach 5. That flight was terminated before the Waverider could reach its planned speed of Mach 6 due to design flaws that we’ll go into tomorrow here at DT.