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C4iSR: Air

RAF sets out hypersonic weapons and propulsion plans

17 July 2019
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An artist's impression of the SABRE hypersonic powerplant being developed by BAE Systems plc and Reaction Engines. The RAF is exploring the possible application of such technologies to its existing and future fighter fleets as part of a wider move into hypersonic technology that includes weapons also. Source: BAE Systems

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has outlined near-term plans for the development of hypersonic weapon and propulsion technologies for its current and future fleets of combat aircraft.

Speaking at the Chief of the Air Staff's Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC) in London, senior service leaders on 17 July announced initiatives to equip the service's current crop of combat aircraft with a hypersonic weapons capability, as well as developing hypersonic propulsion technology that can be retrofitted to existing aircraft or built into new ones. Mach 5 is the commonly defined threshold for hypersonic speed.

On the subject of hypersonic weapons, Air Vice Marshal Simon 'Rocky' Rochelle, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) chief of staff for capability and force development, said that he has directed the recently created Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to begin an effort within the next four years to develop a Mach 5 air-to-air weapons capability that can be carried by the RAF's 4th Generation fighter fleet so as to augment its 5th Generation and future 6th Generation fleets.

"In 2030, more than 80% of the NATO ORBAT [Order of Battle] will be made up of 4th Generation aircraft," AVM Rochelle said. "Now, imagine all those aircraft firing thousands of Mach 5 missiles into the fight!"

As AVM Rochelle explained, the RAF isstarting to look at hypersonic weapons technology specifically to keep its 4th Generation fighter relevant against more advanced air and ground-based threats. The RAF's combat force currently comprises the 4th Generation Eurofighter Typhoon and has begun receiving the first of its 5th Generation Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning aircraft. The service also plans to field the 6th Generation Tempest fighter sometime in the 2030s.

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