The U.S. Air Force to build multi-role hypersonic missile

It’s called “Mayhem” – and it intends to do just that on the battlefield, reported Air Force magazine.

An air-breathing hypersonic weapon capable of carrying multiple payloads, perform surveillance and reconnaissance and other intelligence functions, all in one nice modular package, Air Force Magazine reported – larger than the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

The US Air Force has solicited concepts for a new hypersonic system exclusively from three contractors, namely Boeing, Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks, and Raytheon, with contracts to be awarded in fiscal 2021.

The USAF hopes get to preliminary design review within 15 months.

The system is officially called the Expendable Hypersonic Air-Breathing Multi-Mission Demonstrator Program, but the USAF refers to it as “Mayhem System Demonstrator,” Air Force Magazine reported.

The new missile would be an air-breathing system – unlike the boost-glide ARRW – but would still use a solid rocket booster to accelerate to hypersonic speed.  

The air force said the technology will build on efforts in the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC, a joint program with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as well as the High-Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) program.

USAF acquisition executive Will Roper said the new missile would be pursued with rapid prototyping, as the ARRW and Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) were, Air Force Magazine reported.

The air force dropped HCSW from its hypersonic plans in January, opting to devote its efforts to ARRW. Roper said at the time that he was impressed with the level of maturity of scramjet designs and he had previously expected them to come later than boost-glide.

“I’m delighted to say that I was wrong,” Roper said. “Scramjet is much more mature and ready to go than I originally thought.”

Though apparently larger than the ARRW, the Mayhem still has to be small enough to be carried by a fighter aircraft. In recent discussion of the F-15EX, the air force and Boeing have said a large payload of 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) or so could be mounted on the jet’s centerline station, Air Force Magazine reported.   

According to the solicitation, the air force wants a “larger-scale expendable air-breathing hypersonic” system, “capable of carrying larger payloads over distances further than current hypersonic capabilities allow.”

The missile is to be capable of carrying “at least three distinct payloads” in a “payload bay” for “government-defined mission sets,” and these payloads are to be modular.

Given that USAF didn’t use the word “warheads,” the other payloads are likely to be some kind of sensor or communications systems.

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