Source: Brian Wang |

A team led by Fan Xuejun at the Institute of Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a type of scramjet that ran continuously for 600 seconds in a ground test, Weihutang, a program on military affairs affiliated with state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), reported on over the weekend. This broke the world record of 210 seconds set by the US’ X-51 aircraft.

Hypersonic missiles and vehicles are capable of flying faster than 5 times the speed of sound. Rockets can fly over 25 times the speed of sound. However, hypersonic missiles can be smaller and able to have better control of their flight. A longer duration engine would enable a hypersonic weapon to have longer powered flight. Ten minutes at mach 5 would be about 700 miles of range. Ten minutes at mach 10 would be about 1400 miles of range.

Hypersonic missiles are very difficult to make. The scramjets only operate at over 4 times the speed of sound or faster. This has meant using other propulsion to reach speed. As they lack mechanical compressors, scramjets require the high kinetic energy of a hypersonic flow to compress the incoming air to operational conditions. This is usually done with a turbojet, railgun, or rocket engines.

The Russians and Chinese have used rocket engine first stages to boost hypersonic warheads.

The work could lead to a more advanced hypersonic cruise missile than China’s current DF-17 hypersonic glide-boost missile.

The US has hypersonic missiles in development. Russia has deployed some hypersonic missiles. On 27 December 2019, the first Russian missile regiment armed with the Avangard HGV officially entered combat duty. According to open-source analysis by Jane’s, Avangard is a pure glide vehicle without an independent propulsion system. When approaching a target, the glider is capable of sharp high speed horizontal and vertical evasive maneuvers in flight.

China has the DF-ZF (aka WU-14). It is a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle. The system is operational in 2019. The DF-ZF is thought to reach speeds between Mach 5 (3,836 mph (6,173 km/h; 1,715 m/s)) and Mach 10 (7,680 mph (12,360 km/h; 3,430 m/s).

The U.S. Air Force recently announced plans to buy at least eight prototype AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapons, or ARRWs. This initial batch of these hypersonic missiles will support live-fire flight testing, set to begin in 2021, and could help give the service an early operational capability to employ the weapons a year later. However, there are risks of delays as the project is already a year behind schedule and has seen its total cost increase by almost 40 percent.

SpaceX Starship

If SpaceX develops the fully reusable Super Heavy Starship or just the single-stage Starship, then the US military could use it as a reusable hypersonic launch vehicle. It could carry hypersonic warheads over many missions.

This would vastly simplify and accelerate the US hypersonic missile program.

The Starship would have a range of 7000 miles. A Super Heavy Starship would be able to deploy anywhere in the world.