The Air Force’s hypersonics program is officially off the ground. The Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon completed its first test flight last week at Edwards Air Force Base. Iain Boyd, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, says that after decades of research, the technology is seeing new applications emerge.
“Hypersonics has been around for a long time. NASA has been operating hypersonic vehicles. When you come back from space, like the Space Shuttle and the capsules from the space station are all hypersonic vehicles. People have talked about using hypersonic vehicles to gain access to space. Boeing is talking about commercial hypersonic vehicles. I think that is going to be way in the future, but there are several applications,” said Boyd.
Wes Hallman, senior vice president of strategy and policy at the National Defense Industrial Association, says that hypersonic weapons present unique challenges for national security.
“The systems to take that down are much more complex than anything that can take down a ballistic missile. Those investments have to be critical,” Hallman said. “One of the things that you saw, [Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin] said hypersonics is my number one priority. The second thing you saw is the Space Development Agency looking to create the sensor layer in low-earth orbit… These are critical investments, but they are going to take time. The adversary gets a vote. It’s not just having that weapon system, it is also being able to defend against it.”