Lockheed Martin’s ever-secretive Skunk Works unit has broken cover, revealing its concept for a Mach 6-capable successor to the US Air Force’s long-retired SR-71 Blackbird, and claiming “speed is the new stealth”.
Potentially to be ready to enter service by 2030, the proposed hypersonic – and unmanned – SR-72 “is the counter to counter-stealth”, Skunk Works programme manager Brad Leland told my colleague Stephen Trimble for an article on Flightglobal. Due to its fast speed and high altitude, it would be “all but impossible” for an adversary to engage it, he claims.
Details about the most important element of such a project – namely how to make the jump from the Blackbird’s M3.2 performance to almost double that – are not disclosed, but Leland says ramjet activation would occur below M3.0.
Lockheed says the concept has been proved at the component level, but here’s the problem: a large-scale demonstration effort would require large-scale funding commitments at a time when every DoD dollar spent is being scrutinised and fought for.
The USA out-spent its Soviet adversary to field the SR-71 (prompting Moscow to make high-altitude surface-to-air missile developments and produce the MiG-31 interceptor), but will it be able to do so today, when faced with the scale of military investments being made by China? The fact that Lockheed has decided to go public with the SR-72 idea probably tells you the answer already.