On November 30th, the US announced a joint program with Australia to continue developing air breathing hypersonic vehicles.
The Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) is an Allied Prototyping Initiative (API) under the Directorate for Advanced Capabilities within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
The US Department of the Air Force, under the direction of the Weapons Program Executive Officer, is responsible for the execution of the program.
“SCIFiRE is a true testament to the enduring friendship and strong partnership between the United States and Australia,” said Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability.”
The program aims to cooperatively advance air-breathing hypersonic technologies into full-size prototypes that are affordable and provide a flexible, long range capability, culminating in flight demonstrations in operationally relevant conditions.
The effort will also pursue potential co-production opportunities between the two countries, and leverages U.S. and Australian collaborative hypersonic activities over the last 15 years, namely the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program.
“The SCIFiRE initiative is another opportunity to advance the capabilities in our Air Combat Capability Program to support joint force effects to advance Australia’s security and prosperity,” Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld AO, DSC, Chief of Air Force said. “Working with our Defence scientists here in Australia and our partners in the U.S. Air Force and across the U.S. Department of Defense on leading edge capabilities brings out the best in our Air Force team.”
In the next few months, Australia is expected to begin testing hypersonic missiles.
The move to quickly develop the air-launched hypersonic missiles comes after defense strategists warned the government it no longer has a decade to build up its defenses against potential threats.
On December 1st, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds is to announce the multi-billion-dollar plan, saying the Australian government is committed to “keeping Australians safe, while protecting the nation’s interests in a rapidly changing global environment”.
China and Russia have also been developing a range of new weapons including hypersonic and long-range ballistic missiles.
Australia’s Defense Ministry will not reveal the estimated cost of developing the new hypersonic missiles but it is expected to run into billions of dollars. A total of $9.3 billion was earmarked in this year’s Force Structure Plan for high-speed long-range missile defenses.
Under the plan, the hypersonic missiles would be carried by the RAAF’s existing arsenal of aircraft including the Growlers, Super Hornets, Joint Strike Fighters and Poseidon surveillance planes. The missiles could also be attached to unmanned aircraft such as the new Loyal Wingman drones.
The Australian Defense Minister said the experiments with the US would include demonstrations to show how the weapon performs in operational conditions, which would then inform future purchases.
“Developing this game-changing capability with the United States from an early stage is providing opportunities for Australian industry,” she said.
“Investing in capabilities that deter actions against Australia also benefits our region, our allies and our security partners.
“We remain committed to peace and stability in the region, and an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
Michael Kratsios, the Acting Under Secretary for Research and Engineering for the US’s Department of Defence, said the agreement was “essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the US and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational war-fighting capability”.
Separately, Germany announced that it would join in on the development of anti-hypersonic defensive weapons.
Under some pressure from France, Berlin changed its status from an observer nation to a participant country in the so-called TWISTER effort on October 24th, a Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed.
The project aims to field a space-based, early-warning sensor network and an interceptor moving at a velocity of more than Mach 5 at an altitude up to 100 kilometers sometime around 2030. That’s according to missile-maker MBDA, which has claimed the interceptor portion of the plan as a pet project.
The developer company, MBDA envisions developing a new “endo-atmospheric interceptor [that] will address a wide range of threats including maneuvering ballistic missiles with intermediate ranges, hypersonic or high-supersonic cruise missiles, hypersonic gliders, anti-ship missiles and more conventional targets such as next-generation fighter aircraft,” the company website states. “This interceptor will integrate existing and future land and naval systems.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Heinrich Brauß, a former NATO force planner and now an analyst with the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations, argued the program is needed to quickly close a capability gap for protecting European airspace.
“Given the TLVS performance characteristics compared with the Patriot system, there should be no hesitation to approve the acquisition,” Brauß said.
“I think — putting aside the repeated delays on the TLVS decision-making — that what this reflects is the argument that within Europe’s main military nations there needs to be yet greater focus on layered ground-based air defense capable of being used to engage targets throughout the emerging threat spectrum,” he wrote in an email.
“TLVS and Twister are obviously at different stages of development and could be seen as providing complementary capabilities,” he added.
The US-Australia project, and the EU joint project are unrelated, but they’re all constituted from NATO member states.
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