Mach 3 missile advances

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By Graham Warwick in Washington DC

Lockheed Martin is nearing the crit­ical design review on a technology demonstrator for a Mach 3-plus cruise missile that could be air, ship and submarine-launched. The missile would be accelerated from subsonic launch to supersonic cruise by a turbine engine, and could fly 920km (500nm) or more in 15min to attack time-critical targets.

 mach 3 missile
© Lockheed Martin 

Mach 3 missile demonstrator resembles an SR-71 engine nacelle

The demonstrator is being de­signed for the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) under the Revolutionary Approach to Time-critical Long-Range Strike (RATTLRS) project. Lockheed’s Skunk Works is prime contractor. Rolls-Royce’s Liberty Works is building the YJ102R high-Mach turbine engine for the demonstrator.

First ground runs of the complete engine are planned for early next year, says Lockheed programme manager Craig Johnston. Construction of the integrated vehicle will begin around the same time, with the first launch from a Lockheed NC-130F planned for late next year in the Pacific test range off Pt Mugu, California.

Before the end of this year, sled tests are planned to demonstrate payloads planned for an operational weapon – including subsonic and supersonic submunitions dispensing and supersonic penetrator delivery – says ONR programme manager Lawrence Ash.

Johnston says the goal of RATTLRS, which is a US Navy-led joint project with the US Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA, is to reduce risk to where development of an operational weapon could be launched before the end of the decade.

Ash says the YJ102R has six times the specific thrust of the Pratt & Whitney J58 that powered the Lockheed SR-71, and will accelerate the missile to M3 without reheat. The airframe is similar in shape and size to an SR-71 engine nacelle, but the YJ102R is only 330mm (13in) in diameter yet produces half the dry thrust of the four times larger J58, at 6% of the weight, he says.