Within the next decade, the U.S. Air Force will have an operational hypersonic jet that can fly with speeds up to Mach 5.1. That’s equivalent to flying from New York to London in just an hour. Dubbed the X-51 Waverider, the Air Force aims to weaponize it and work like a missile.
Still, the X-51 Waverider’s target speed is half of that of China’s Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle which can fly an estimated speed of Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound (7,680 miles per hour).
Developed by Boeing, X-51 WaveRider needs a traditional plane because it is from there that it will get dropped off. An attached rocket booster will give the plane a kick, with speeds reaching Mach 4.5. It will then drop off the X-51 and from there speed up to Mach 5.1. It was tested in 2013 and proved to be successful.
Now Boeing, the U.S. Air Force and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research entity, are collaborating to shrink the X-51 WaveRider into a weapon that could be placed on bomber planes that can hit targets.
“You could then attack defensive targets, those heavily defended or the time-critical targets in a very timely manner — if it’s a moving target, before it can move,” Kenneth Davidson, who manages the development at the Air Force Research Laboratory, told Military.com. “And then ultimately, these would have a sensor so that they can track a moved target — not necessarily something that is moving, but if the target moves or it gets into the area, they can see the target and hit it very, very accurately.”
Countries like U.S. and China have been experimenting and developing hypersonic missiles, in what seemed to be a preparation for war triggered by conflicts not just in the Middle East but also in Europe and Southeast Asia. The Free Beacon report states China wants it high-speed glide vehicle operational by 2020, as well as a scramjet powered hypersonic vehicle by 2025.