Key point: Lockheed’s hyping of a hypersonic aircraft which may-or-may-not already exist seems explicitly intended to build support for additional funding.
Hypersonic weapons—those capable of flying over five times the speed of sound—are the hot new buzz word of defense industrial complexes across the globe. China, Russia and the United States have all vigorously and relatively openly pursued a diverse array of hypersonic weapons programs, adding fuel to the fire of a growing arms race.
While long-range ballistic missiles could already attain hypersonic speeds, they travel in predictable arcs and can be detected well in advance, giving military and political leaders time to react. Furthermore, an increasing number of air defense systems may be at least partially capable of intercepting ballistic missiles.
However, back in 2013 Lockheed executive Robert Weiss caused a stir when he told Aviation Week the aerospace titan was well into developing a hypersonic aircraft—and invoked the legendary SR-71 Blackbird spy plane by dubbing it the SR-72.
No manned aircraft in operational service has matched the remarkable long-distance Mach 3 cruises of the Blackbird. Until recently, SR-71s simply outran missiles fired at them on photo-reconnaissance missions over North Korea and the Middle East. Now the latest surface-to-air missiles render Mach 3 speeds inadequate to assure survival, but a hypersonic aircraft might again outpace the threats arrayed against it.