The United States Government (USG) spends an exorbitant amount of its budget on research and development for military technologies, at the request of the Pentagon. The Air Force receives the majority of the entire military R&D budget, with $37 billion proposed for 2021. The Space Force was created in late 2019 and is asking to be allocated $10 billion in funds that would have gone to the Air Force. $3.2 billion alone will be spent on developing hypersonic technology further. The Pentagon also plans to spend $10 billion over the next four years, to further develop the newest stealth bomber, Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider.
Hypersonic systems are especially interesting to the Defense Department for their incredible speed, range, and lethality. The United States is in a constant race to match and surpass the technological advancements of Russia and China. Both countries are developing hypersonic systems for weapons delivery, including nuclear weapons. Similar to SpaceX rockets, the US is now developing reusable hypersonic systems. What can we expect in the near future from the Space Force and will the Air Force receive reciprocal benefits?
Funding for hypersonic systems has increased 10 fold in only a few years and this trend is likely to continue. While the first hypersonic aircraft was built and successfully met hypersonic speeds in the 1960s, the military had little interest in investing research further into the technology. But with other countries developing these systems, it has become of national interest to not fall behind. The United States is currently having great success, with its most recent hypersonic missile hitting within 6 inches of its target.
An aircraft or weapons system is hypersonic if it can reach speeds faster than Mach 5, which is around 4,000 miles per hour. This translates to 60 miles per minute, which could greatly impact flight duration if this technology can be implemented in commercial aircraft in the future. Engineers are working hard to address the biggest hurdles to hypersonic travel: heat and drag.
During hypersonic travel, the nose cone and wings can reach temperatures in excess of 1,800°C (3272°F). The aircraft must be made of materials that can safely and routinely undergo these extreme temperature changes. Engineers are designing coatings with the ability to throw off thermal energy, a property called emittance. They are also looking at ceramics combined with samarium oxide to help increase material performance on the edges of the aircraft. Engineers tackle drag, by designing aircraft with the lowest air resistance possible.
Low-Observability / Stealth
Evading radar systems and infrared sensors is especially useful for the United States government.
Therefore, it’s quite obvious the USG is in no position to withhold funding for research and development of new technology.