Category Archives: Air Force

JSTARS Recapitalization

Lockheed Martin is pleased to announce that Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has joined the Skunk Works Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) Recapitalization (Recap) team, which currently includes Bombardier and Raytheon, bringing greater value to the partnership, and the team’s ability to deliver a premier solution to the U.S. Air Force.

The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works-led team delivers a low-risk, affordable solution for the United States Air Force’s JSTARS Recap program (LM image)
The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works-led team delivers a low-risk, affordable solution for the United States Air Force’s JSTARS Recap program (LM image)

SNC, which previously qualified as a prime contractor candidate for the U.S. Air Force’s JSTARS Recap program, will perform modifications to Bombardier’s Global 6000 aircraft, and will help obtain the necessary airworthiness certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. Air Force. This strategic partnership further enhances this powerful industry team to provide a system that will drive cost-savings, schedule and performance efficiencies for the U.S. Air Force.

«We are extremely pleased to combine forces with the Lockheed Martin-led team», said Ralph Pollitt, senior vice president of SNC’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) business area. «We look forward to contributing to the team’s success by applying decades of experience in modifying and certifying commercial and military aircraft for a wide-variety of users around the globe».

Lockheed Martin is the lead systems integrator for the program, while Raytheon brings its experience with ground surveillance, ISR systems, and JSTARS communications. Bombardier will provide its ultra-long-range Global 6000 business jet platform, which is less expensive to operate than modern airliners and is uniquely suited to the JSTARS Recap mission.

«SNC shares our team’s vision and commitment to our warfighters», said Andrew Adams, vice president of Advanced Systems, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. «Together we will deliver a system that offers the optimum solution – quickly and affordably».

Special Operations

On June 20, 2017, at the Paris Air Show, Lockheed Martin officials introduced the C-130J-SOF, the newest Super Hercules aircraft configured for international military special operations requirements.

Lockheed Martin's latest C-130J variant, the C-130J-SOF, a Super Hercules configured to support international special operations forces missions
Lockheed Martin’s latest C-130J variant, the C-130J-SOF, a Super Hercules configured to support international special operations forces missions

The C-130J-SOF is the 10th production variant of the Super Hercules. This multi-mission aircraft is specifically intended to meet the unique demands associated with executing operations of strategic importance in support of international Special Operations Forces (SOF).

«The C-130J’s inherent versatility is capable of supporting missions across a broad spectrum of military operations, and this is amplified once again with the C-130J-SOF», said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. «As our global partners face increasing and evolving threats that transcend borders, they want a proven solution. The C-130J-SOF, is in fact, the solution that will ensure security is preserved around the world».

The C-130J-SOF Super Hercules provides the capability to execute Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and psychological operations, airdrop resupply, personnel recovery, humanitarian relief, as well as infiltration, exfiltration and re-supply of SOF personnel.

With added special mission equipment options, the C-130J-SOF Super Hercules may also be configured for armed overwatch that includes a 30-mm gun and Hellfire missiles, helicopter/fighter/vertical lift aerial refueling, and Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) operations.

«Our global partners said they need to support their SOF teams with a solution that is reliable, affordable, effective and integrated. They must support their teams in the sky, on the sea and on the ground», said George Shultz, vice president and general manager, Air Mobility and Maritime Missions at Lockheed Martin. «International operators want a special missions Super Hercules that’s proven and a true force multiplier. Today, we offer that solution to the world in the form of the C-130J-SOF».

The C-130J Super Hercules is the airlifter of choice for 17 nations, offering superior performance and capabilities, with the range and versatility for every theater of operations. To date, the global Super Hercules fleet has surpassed more than 1.5 million flight hours.

SmartGlider family

MBDA presents the new SmartGlider family of guided weapons, optimised to counter anti-access strategies and other emerging battlespace threats. Planned to become available for fast jets no later than 2025, SmartGlider forms a family of all-up-round glider weapons, with folding wings and a range of over 62 miles/100 km. This new generation of air-to-ground weapons is designed to counter new networked short- and medium-range surface-to-air threats, as well as moving/relocatable targets or hardened fixed targets.

SmartGlider family of guided weapons
SmartGlider family of guided weapons

The compact family member, SmartGlider Light, is 6.56 feet/2 meters long and weighs 264.5 lbs/120 kg. 12 to 18 SmartGlider Lights can be carried on an aircraft thanks to a Hexabomb Smart Launcher (HSL) capable of managing reactive strikes without affecting the pilot’s workload. As such, the SmartGlider Light will allow first-day-entry by saturating and destroying enemy air defences.

For general purpose missions, the SmartGlider Light can be engaged against a wide spectrum of targets, from hardened and defended fixed targets such as hangars, to relocatable targets that can only be destroyed from a standoff distance with significant lethal effects.

Last, MBDA also prepares a 2,866 lbs/1,300 kg SmartGlider Heavy able to carry a multipurpose warhead of more than 2,204.6 lbs/1,000 kg to deal with large and hardened infrastructure.

«The SmartGlider family considerably reinforces the air-to-ground capabilities of the combat platform, sitting between the bombs equipped with guidance kits and cruise missiles», explains François Moussez, MBDA Military Advisor. «Designed for use in high volumes in order to saturate air defences, SmartGliders are gliders that, thanks to a high lift-to-drag ratio and their integrated guidance and navigation, will feature a range of over 62 miles/100 km allowing the combat platform to stay at safe distance from the enemy defences».

Lionel Mazenq, Business Development Manager France, adds: «Our SmartGliders will integrate new technologies in their guidance and navigation functions, as well as multipurpose warheads. Thus, they will be able to reach and destroy the best defended targets, notably enemy air defences, thanks to a mix of optronics and radio frequency sensors that makes them robust against anti-access measures».

«Throughout thirty years of work on the SCALP/Storm Shadow and now on future deep strike, MBDA has gained an in-depth understanding of penetrative missions in hostile territory», states Antoine Bouvier, CEO of MBDA. «We have therefore been able to optimise the costs of the aircraft and missile combination and succeeded in designing a truly efficient weapon for use in high volumes that perfectly complements the SCALP/Storm Shadow and its future follow-on FC/ASW that we are developing through Anglo-French cooperation».

First flight

On 15 June 2017 Defence and security company Saab completed a successful first flight of the next generation smart fighter, Gripen E.

First flight success for Gripen E
First flight success for Gripen E

At 10:32 on Thursday June 15, Gripen E took off on its maiden flight, flown by a Saab test pilot. The aircraft (designation 39-8) left from Saab’s airfield in Linköping, Sweden and flew over the eastern parts of Östergötland for 40 minutes. During the flight, the aircraft carried out a number of actions to demonstrate various test criteria including the retracting and extending of the landing gear.

«The flight was just as expected, with the aircraft performance matching the experience in our simulations. Its acceleration performance is impressive with smooth handling. Needless to say, I’m very happy to have piloted this maiden flight», says Marcus Wandt, Experimental Test Pilot, Saab.

«Today we have flown this world class fighter aircraft for the first time. We achieved it with the fully qualified software for the revolutionary avionics system. This is about giving our customers a smart fighter system with the future designed in from the start. The flight test activities will continue to build on this achievement with the programme on track to achieve the 2019 delivery schedule to our Swedish and Brazilian customers», says Jonas Hjelm, Senior Vice President and Head of Saab Business Area Aeronautics.

Saab has flown its Gripen-E new-generation fighter for the first time, almost exactly 13 months after its official roll-out. Developed for Sweden, it has also been ordered by Brazil and is being marketed world-wide (Saab photo)
Saab has flown its Gripen-E new-generation fighter for the first time, almost exactly 13 months after its official roll-out. Developed for Sweden, it has also been ordered by Brazil and is being marketed world-wide (Saab photo)

 

KEY DATA

Length overall 15.2 m/50 feet
Width overall 8.6 m/28 feet
Basic mass empty 8,000 kg/17,637 lbs
Internal fuel 3,400 kg/7,496 lbs
Maximum takeoff weight 16,500 kg/36,376 lbs
Maximum thrust 98 kN/9,993 kgf/22,031 lbf
Minimum takeoff distance 500 m/1,640 feet
Landing distance 600 m/1,968 feet
Maximum speed at sea level > 756 knots/870 mph/1400 km/h
Maximum speed at high altitude Mach 2
Supercruise capability Yes
Maximum service altitude > 16,000 m/52,500 feet
G-limits -3G / +9G
Hardpoints 10
Combat turnaround air-to-air 10 min
Full engine replacement 1 hour

 

Radar Upgrade

The U.S. Air Force selected Northrop Grumman Corporation’s APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) as the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) for its F-16 radar upgrade.

AESA (advanced electronically scanned array)
AESA (advanced electronically scanned array)

Northrop Grumman will upgrade 72 U.S. Air National Guard F-16s to meet a U.S. Northern Command Joint Emergent Operational Need for homeland defense.

«AESA radar upgrades are critically important to give the F-16 community, the tactical advantage it deserves, and we are honored to provide this differentiating technology for the safety and mission effectiveness of our warfighters», said Bob Gough, vice president, combat avionics systems, Northrop Grumman. «The APG-83 SABR system is in full rate production and available now for U.S. and international F-16 upgrades».

The radar upgrade extends the operational viability and reliability of the F-16 and provides pilots with 5th generation fighter radar capabilities to counter and defeat increasingly sophisticated threats.

The greater bandwidth, speed, and agility of Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 SABR enables the F-16 to detect, track and identify greater numbers of targets faster and at longer ranges. In addition, the radar can operate in hostile electronic environments and features all-weather, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, which presents the pilot with a large surface image enabling precision target identification and strike.

The APG-83 SABR has also been selected by a growing number of international customers and is the base radar for Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70. Northrop Grumman began delivering production APG-83 radars for its first international customer on schedule at the end of 2016.

United States Air Force Selects the Northrop Grumman APG-83 SABR for F-16 AESA Radar Upgrade
United States Air Force Selects the Northrop Grumman APG-83 SABR for F-16 AESA Radar Upgrade

The APG-83 AESA provides the following capability enhancements over legacy mechanically scanned APG-66 & APG-68 radars to ensure F-16s remain operationally viable and sustainable for decades to come:

  • Autonomous, all-environment stand-off precision targeting;
  • BIG SAR wide area high-res maps;
  • High quality, coordinate generation;
  • Greater target detection and tracking range;
  • Faster search and target acquisition;
  • Smaller target detection;
  • Multi-target tracking;
  • Robust electronic protection (A/A and A/G);
  • SABR 5th Gen Capability;
  • Enhanced combat ID;
  • Interleaved mode operations for greater situational awareness;
  • Maritime modes;
  • 3-5× greater reliability and availability.

 

Spirit arrives in UK

Two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers joined B-1B Lancers and B-52H Stratofortresses June 9, 2017, to participate in theater bomber assurance and deterrence operations.

A B-2 Spirit deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, lands on the flightline at Royal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom, June 9, 2017. The B-2 regularly conducts strategic bomber missions that demonstrate the credibility of the bomber forces to address a global security environment (U.S. Air Force photo/ Technical Sergeant Miguel Lara III)
A B-2 Spirit deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, lands on the flightline at Royal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom, June 9, 2017. The B-2 regularly conducts strategic bomber missions that demonstrate the credibility of the bomber forces to address a global security environment (U.S. Air Force photo/ Technical Sergeant Miguel Lara III)

Three B-52Hs Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), Louisiana, and three B-1Bs Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, along with approximately 800 Airmen, are currently supporting exercises Saber Strike and Baltic Operations in the U.S. European Theater.

While not actively participating in ongoing regional exercises, the B-2s Spirit join the other Air Force Global Strike Command assets in support of recurring bomber assurance and deterrence operations. Bomber deployments enhance the readiness and training necessary to respond to any contingency or challenge across the globe.

«The bomber assurance and deterrence missions these three aircraft are supporting are key to reinforcing our commitment to our allies in NATO – in a very visible, very tangible way – that we stand shoulder to shoulder with them, no matter what», said Colonel Jared Kennish, the 322nd Air Expeditionary Group commander.

U.S. Strategic Command routinely conducts bomber operations across the globe as a demonstration of commitment to collective defense and to integrate with geographic combatant commands operations and activities. This is the first time that all three bomber platforms have been located together in the European theater, and only the second time total in Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) history; the first was in Guam in August 2016.

«This short-term deployment demonstrates the flexible global strike capabilities of the U.S. bomber force, and ensures bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness», said Kennish. «The training will provide opportunities to integrate capabilities with regional partners, and is part of the United States’ commitment to supporting global security».

A number of total force Airmen from Whiteman AFB, Missouri, are supporting the B-2 Spirit operation. Many, including Kennish, are members of the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing. The Guard wing has cleared a number of operational performance evaluations and readiness assessments to obtain full operational capability to perform the strategic bomber mission of the B-2 Spirit alongside the active duty 509th Bomb Wing, at home and at Royal Air Force Fairford.

Members of the 131st BW have been a part of every previous bomber assurance and deterrence operation; however, this is the first time that the operations of all three strategic bombers has been led by a guardsman, further signaling the full arrival of the total force construct in AFGSC.

«There may have been a time early in our transition when people wondered if our two wings could make (total force integration) work in the B-2 Spirit operations, maintenance and support missions, but we’ve long since proved the concept at Whiteman (AFB)», said Kennish. «Operations like the ones we’re supporting this month just put an exclamation point on our record of total force team success».

 

General Characteristics

Primary function Multi-role heavy bomber
Contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant 4 General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
Thrust 19,000 lbs/8,618 kg/84,5 kN each engine
Wingspan 172 feet/52.12 m
Length 69 feet/20.9 m
Height 17 feet/5.1 m
Weight 160,000 lbs/72,575 kg
Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) 336,500 lbs/152,634 kg
Fuel Capacity 167,000 lbs/75,750 kg
Payload 40,000 lbs/18,144 kg
Speed High subsonic
Range 6,000 NM/11,112 km unrefueled; 10,000 NM/18,520 km with one refueling
Ceiling 50,000 feet/15,240 m
Armament Can deliver a variety of conventional and nuclear weapons, including precision-guided munitions, and gravity bombs
Crew Two pilots, with provisions for a third crew member if future missions require it
Unit cost Approximately $1.157 billion
Initial operating capability April 1997
Inventory Active force: 20 (1 test)

 

Hawk demonstrator

A concept of a future variant of BAE Systems’ highly successful Hawk aircraft has flown for the first time at the Company’s military aircraft facility in Warton, Lancashire. Equipped with a new type of pilot display, a redesigned wing and defensive aids, the Advanced Hawk will meet market requirements for the next generation of fast jet training aircraft.

Successful first flight of the Advanced Hawk demonstrator takes place
Successful first flight of the Advanced Hawk demonstrator takes place

Whilst the existing Hawk continues to be the world’s most successful jet trainer, the Advanced Hawk concept demonstrator builds on these proven successes. The concept demonstrator features an upgraded cockpit equipped with BAE Systems’ LiteHUD (a low-profile head-up display) and a new, large area display that introduces a new student/pilot training experience. It also features a redesigned wing that increases performance in areas such as turn rates, angles of attack and both take-off and landing.

Other technology advances include increased stores capability, a new set of defensive aids and a range of new flight systems, all aimed at ensuring Hawk continues to provide the edge in fast jet pilot training, as well as offering increased operational utility.

The first flight of the aircraft builds on its public debut at Aero India 2017 in Bangalore earlier this year.

Steve Timms, Managing Director Defence Information, Training & Services at BAE Systems said: «The successful first flight of the Advanced Hawk concept demonstrator is the latest step in the aircraft’s development and marks a significant milestone in Hawk’s capability upgrade. We already have the world’s leading advanced jet trainer and the new features in Advanced Hawk have been developed after listening to our customers’ views on where fast jet pilot training will go in the future and how we ensure the Hawk continues to meet their requirements. By using this demonstrator aircraft, we have highlighted to existing users of Hawk that many of the proposed features of an Advanced Hawk, such as the large area display and new wing, could be achievable as upgrades».

The aircraft will now undergo a series of flights to collect test data on the new key capability enhancements.

Japanese-Built F-35A

The first Japanese-assembled F-35A was unveiled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Komaki South F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility here on June 5, 2017. The Japan F-35 FACO is operated by MHI with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin and oversight from the U.S. Government.

AX-5, the first Japanese-assembled F-35A was unveiled in Nagoya Japan on 5 June 2017. The aircraft was built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility. The Japan F-35 FACO is operated by MHI with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin and oversight from the U.S. Government (Photo by Thinh Nguyen, Lockheed Martin)
AX-5, the first Japanese-assembled F-35A was unveiled in Nagoya Japan on 5 June 2017. The aircraft was built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility. The Japan F-35 FACO is operated by MHI with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin and oversight from the U.S. Government (Photo by Thinh Nguyen, Lockheed Martin)

Approximately 200 people attended the ceremony including Japanese and United States government and defense industry leaders. The ceremony highlighted the strong partnership between the Japanese Ministry of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, MHI and Lockheed Martin.

Kenji Wakamiya, senior vice minister of defense; General Yoshiyuki Sugiyama, Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) chief of staff; Lieutenant General Jerry Martinez, commander, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force; Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer; Vice Admiral Dave Lewis, Defense Contract Management Agency Director; Naohiko Abe, MHI’s senior vice president and Integrated Defense & Space Systems president, and Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, attended the milestone event.

«Seeing the first Japanese built F-35A is a testament to the global nature of this program», said Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer. «This state of the art assembly facility, staffed with a talented and motivated workforce, enables us to leverage industry’s unique talents and technological know-how to produce the world’s best multi-role fighter. The F-35 will enhance the strength of our security alliances and reinforce long-established bonds with our allies through training opportunities, exercises, and military-to-military events».

The Japanese Ministry of Defense competitively selected the F-35A as the JASDF’s next-generation air defense fighter in December 2011, with a Foreign Military Sales program of record of 42 F-35As. The first four JASDF F-35As were previously delivered from the Fort Worth, Texas, production facility. Subsequent deliveries of 38 F-35A aircraft will come from the FACO here in Japan.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense selected the Nagoya FACO in 2014 for the North Asia-Pacific regional heavy airframe Maintenance Repair Overhaul & Upgrade (MROU) facility.

«Building upon our enduring relationship with Japanese industry, we are fully committed to our F-35 production partnership with MHI and our support to the Japan Ministry of Defense», Carvalho said. «The skilled workers who achieved this milestone know firsthand the F-35’s capability and how this aircraft will only strengthen the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance, thereby building upon Japan’s strategic vision to ensure the Alliance remains strong for decades to come».

The F-35 Lightning II is a next-generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, advanced mission systems, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and cutting-edge sustainment. More than 220 operational F-35s have been built and delivered worldwide and they have collectively flown more than 95,000 flight hours.

 

Specifications

Length 51.4 feet/15.7 m
Height 14.4 feet/4.38 m
Wingspan 35 feet/10.7 m
Wing area 460 feet2/42.7 m2
Horizontal tail span 22.5 feet/6.86 m
Weight empty 29,300 lbs/13,290 kg
Internal fuel capacity 18,250 lbs/8,278 kg
Weapons payload 18,000 lbs/8,160 kg
Maximum weight 70,000 lbs class/31,751 kg
Standard internal weapons load Two AIM-120C air-to-air missiles
Two 2,000-pound/907 kg GBU-31 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) guided bombs
Propulsion (uninstalled thrust ratings) F135-PW-100
Maximum Power (with afterburner) 43,000 lbs/191,3 kN/19,507 kgf
Military Power (without afterburner) 28,000 lbs/128,1 kN/13,063 kgf
Engine Length 220 in/5.59 m
Engine Inlet Diameter 46 in/1.17 m
Engine Maximum Diameter 51 in/1.30 m
Bypass Ratio 0.57
Overall Pressure Ratio 28
Speed (full internal weapons load) Mach 1.6 (~1,043 knots/1,200 mph/1,931 km/h)
Combat radius (internal fuel) >590 NM/679 miles/1,093 km
Range (internal fuel) >1,200 NM/1,367 miles/2,200 km
Maximum g-rating 9.0

 

Successful Missile-Intercept

On May 30, 2017, the Defense Department successfully intercepted an InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target during a test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system, according to a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) news release.

Defense Department Successfully Intercepts Missile in Test
Defense Department Successfully Intercepts Missile in Test

The successful test was conducted by the Missile Defense Agency, in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force 30th Space Wing, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense and U.S. Northern Command.

 

‘An Incredible Accomplishment’

«The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program», said MDA Director Navy Vice Admiral Jim Syring. «This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat. I am incredibly proud of the warfighters who executed this test and who operate this system every day».

This was the first live-fire test event against an ICBM-class target for GMD and the U.S. ballistic missile defense system.

During the test, an ICBM-class target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Multiple sensors provided target acquisition and tracking data to the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communication system.

The Sea-Based X-band radar, positioned in the Pacific Ocean, also acquired and tracked the target. The GMD system received the target tracking data and developed a fire control solution to intercept the target.

A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and its exo-atmospheric kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target in a direct collision.

 

Flight Data Slated for Evaluation

Initial indications are that the test met its primary objective, but program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

The test, designated Flight Test Ground-Based Interceptor-15, will provide the data necessary to assess the performance of the GMD system and provide enhanced homeland defense capabilities.

The GMD element of the ballistic missile defense system provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats to protect the U.S. The mission of the Missile Defense Agency is to develop and deploy a layered ballistic missile defense system to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies and friends from limited ballistic missile attacks of all ranges in all phases of flight.

Experimental Spaceplane

DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today – launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit. Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the Nation today is critically dependent.

Phantom Express is envisioned as a highly autonomous experimental spaceplane, shown preparing to launch its expendable second stage on the top of the vehicle in this artist’s concept. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Boeing to fund development of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program (Boeing rendering)
Phantom Express is envisioned as a highly autonomous experimental spaceplane, shown preparing to launch its expendable second stage on the top of the vehicle in this artist’s concept. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Boeing to fund development of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program (Boeing rendering)

«The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand», said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. «We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3 – fabrication and flight».

The XS-1 program envisions a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, roughly the size of a business jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. The vehicle would be launched with no external boosters, powered solely by self-contained cryogenic propellants. Upon reaching a high suborbital altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 3,000-pound/1,360-kg satellite to polar orbit. The reusable first stage would then bank and return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours.

In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, with an additional final flight carrying the upper-stage payload delivery system. If successful, the program could help enable a commercial service in the future that could operate with recurring costs of as little as $5 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage, assuming a recurring flight rate of at least ten flights per year – a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the U.S. military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Note that goal is for actual cost, not commercial price, which would be determined in part by market forces.)

To achieve these goals, XS-1 designers plan to take advantage of technologies and support systems that have enhanced the reliability and fast turnaround of military aircraft. For example, easily accessible subsystem components configured as line replaceable units would be used wherever practical to enable quick maintenance and repairs.

The XS-1 Phase 2/3 design also intends to increase efficiencies by integrating numerous state-of-the-art technologies, including some previously developed by DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. For example, the XS-1 technology demonstrator’s propulsion system is an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, a version of the legacy Space Shuttle main engine (SSME).

Once Phantom Express reaches the edge of space, it would deploy the second stage and return to Earth. It would then land on a runway to be prepared for its next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles similar to modern aircraft (Boeing rendering)
Once Phantom Express reaches the edge of space, it would deploy the second stage and return to Earth. It would then land on a runway to be prepared for its next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles similar to modern aircraft (Boeing rendering)

Other technologies in the XS-1 design include:

  • Advanced, lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks to hold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants;
  • Hybrid composite-metallic wings and control surfaces able to withstand the physical stresses of suborbital hypersonic flight and temperatures of more than 2,000º F/1,093º C;
  • Automated flight-termination and other technologies for autonomous flight and operations, including some developed by DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program.

XS-1 Phase 2 includes design, construction, and testing of the technology demonstration vehicle through 2019. It calls for initially firing the vehicle’s engine on the ground 10 times in 10 days to demonstrate propulsion readiness for flight tests.

Phase 3 objectives include 12 to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020. After multiple shakedown flights to reduce risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over 10 consecutive days, at first without payloads and at speeds as fast as Mach 5/3,836 mph/6,174 km/h. Subsequent flights are planned to fly as fast as Mach 10, and deliver a demonstration payload between 900 pounds/408 kg and 3,000 pounds/1,360 kg into low Earth orbit.

Another goal of the program is to encourage the broader commercial launch sector to adopt useful XS-1 approaches, processes, and technologies that facilitate launch on demand and rapid turnaround – important military and commercial needs for the 21st century. Toward that goal, DARPA intends to release selected data from its Phase 2/3 tests and will provide to all interested commercial entities the relevant specs for potential payloads.

«We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality», said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees XS-1. «Demonstration of aircraft-like, on-demand, and routine access to space is important for meeting critical Defense Department needs and could help open the door to a range of next-generation commercial opportunities».

Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Phase 2/3 Concept Video