Global Race to Add Supersonic and Hypersonic Aircraft Weapons in Military Arsenal

21 Nov 2022

Since the invention of aircraft, engineers and scientists have worked to increase the speed and range of platforms that use the air as a transportation medium. However, despite the development of commercial aviation, which resulted in a more comfortable, efficient, and safe aircraft, the duration of the journeys remained constant throughout the first 50 years.

It was only with the advent of supersonic aircraft for commercial aviation, which was first conceived in the late 1960s, the flight duration was significantly reduced. Although efforts to resume supersonic flight are already underway, the aerospace industry is focusing even more on developing hypersonic commercial aircraft. 

In terms of military applications, the emphasis on supersonic and hypersonic aircraft is shifting away from absolute performance to sustained operations and joint-domain capabilities. 

Manufacturers and operators alike rely on the development of low-maintenance, highly effective platforms that can work in tandem with different layers of homeland defense systems, such as autonomous systems and missile defense systems, to carry out missions.

What is the difference between supersonic and hypersonic aircraft? 

Supersonic aircraft- Supersonic aircraft, which operate at speeds higher than Mach 1 and up to Mach 5, is used primarily for combat and surveillance purposes by military organizations. Through direct agreements with domestic manufacturers or through sales to foreign militaries, several modernization and upgrade initiatives from 2010 to 2022 have raised the need for these aircraft.

Countries with large defense expenditures, such as the U.S., China, India, and Russia, have been steadily expanding the size of their fleets of supersonic aircraft through both international military sales and homegrown platform development initiatives.

Hypersonic aircraft- The maximum speed for hypersonic flight is Mach 5. Most exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles are already in use in hypersonic regimes. The Space Shuttle and other reentry spacecraft go through this regime when they approach the atmosphere (at a speed of Mach 20+) and before they start to slow down as they approach the ground for landing. 

While hypersonic flight through the atmosphere was being sought after, supersonic flight was being attempted, albeit with little success. Complex technological problems and failures also hampered progress because they forced only a few highly developed countries to make inconsistent attempts.

Due to this, the next stage of having operable hypersonic platforms transit the environment on a regular basis has not been attained even decades after the breaking of the sound barrier. 

However, demand for supersonic and hypersonic aircraft has historically been mostly driven by military requirements, and it is anticipated that this tendency will continue as the supersonic and hypersonic aircraft market grows. 

According to the BIS Research market report, the global supersonic and hypersonic aircraft market was valued at $4.13 billion in 2021, and it is expected to reach $5.40 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 2.73% during the forecast period 2022-2032.

Find more details on this report in this FREE sample 

Global supersonic and hypersonic missile development is a persistent subject of competition between developed and developing nations' militaries. Further in the article, a handful of these most recent updates are covered.

Development of Hypersonic Missiles by China, North Korea, and Russia

On October 26, 2022, EurAsian Times reported that the U.S. military successfully conducted a test launch of a rocket for the creation of hypersonic weapons. Then, the U.S. Congressional Research Service made its amended report on "Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress" available for review by Congress the following day, on October 27. 


It is unexpected that the U.S. is reluctant to have a publicly acknowledged hypersonic program, given that other countries, not just North Korea, China, and Russia, also have deployable hypersonic missiles.

Additionally, many other nations are working on hypersonic weaponry. These nations include South Korea, Australia, India, France, Germany, and Japan. Australia is said to run seven hypersonic wind tunnels and is able to test speeds up to Mach 30 in addition to the Woomera Test Range facilities, which are among the biggest weapons testing facilities in the world.

According to military experts, France has made the decision to militarize hypersonic technology as part of the "V-max (Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle) program," which would give Paris access to a strategic nuclear weapon. Five hypersonic wind tunnels are in operation in France, with a maximum test speed of Mach 21. 

An experimental hypersonic glide vehicle has already been tested in Germany (SHEFEX II). As part of the European Union's ATLLAS II project, which aims to create a Mach 5–6 vehicle, it continues to study and test hypersonic vehicles. Germany has three hypersonic wind tunnels that it uses for testing, and they have a Mach 11 top speed.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, Hycore, a ground-launched Mach 6+ hypersonic cruise missile, is reportedly being developed in response to mounting anxiety over North Korea's military modernization. In the future, it intends to construct versions for air and sea launches.

Japan is also working on the hypersonic cruise missile (HCM) and the hyper velocity gliding projectile (HVGP) for neutralizing aircraft carriers and suppressing large areas.

A more advanced version of HVGP is anticipated to be available by 2030, while HCM is anticipated to go into operation in 2026. Three hypersonic wind tunnels are reportedly operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and two more are located at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the University of Tokyo.

A cooperative analysis focusing on future counter-hypersonic technological collaboration has also been agreed upon between Japan and the U.S.

Conclusion

The high-supersonic platforms have historically been used for surveillance missions, with the objective of data acquisition from target sites and fast exit from enemy airspaces. The advent of advanced missile defense systems and space-based tracking has made this objective difficult for current supersonic platforms, requiring aircraft capable of flying at hypersonic speed to escape the missile defense systems and advanced countersurveillance capabilities.

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