US Air Force signs $344 million hypersonic Mayhem aircraft deal • The Register

The US Air Force has awarded defense company Leidos $334 million to develop the next phase of its hypersonic arsenal: an unmanned spacecraft designed for super-fast espionage dubbed “Mayhem.”

This latest contract award comes less than a week after the USAF announced successful testing of its first operational hypersonic weapon (defined as faster than Mach 5 while maintaining maneuverability), the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW.

Unlike ARRW, Leidos’ Mayhem Prize isn’t just about building a weapon, it’s about “Expendable Hypersonic Multi-mission ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and Strike Program, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Strike Craft.” . A warhead fits, but this is more of a Star Trek photon torpedo/probe/space coffin: customizable to meet the needs of the mission.

“This program is focused on delivering a larger-class air-breathing hypersonic system capable of performing multiple missions with a standardized payload interface and offering significant technological advancement and sustainability,” the Department of Defense said last week.

Mayhem’s air-breathing design also differs from ARRW, which uses a rocket and glider system to reach targets. However, no hypersonic Mayhem strike vehicles are being built just yet — Leidos said its initial $24 million contract award is for system requirements and conceptual design reviews in a digital environment — fairly tentatively.

The award is capped at $334 million otherwise it is an “indefinite supply/indefinite quantity contract with cost plus fixed fee … for research and development” as part of Mayhem. In other words, the bill keeps getting bigger.

The USAF’s Mayhem Project has been in the public domain as of 2020, but little is known about the actual purpose of the classified program. It was believed that Mayhem involved the development of a new hypersonic attack aircraft until the actual contract opportunity was released, which turned out to be the aforementioned multi-mission ISR and strike vehicle.

As a jet engine platform, Mayhem is more akin to DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) than to the USAF’s ARRW missile. DARPA successfully tested HAWC missiles earlier this year and believes they are ready for real-world use as well.

Hypersonic weapons aren’t limited to just traveling at Mach 5. A hypersonic design tested by Lockheed Martin in the 2010s proved capable of speeds of up to Mach 20, which could allow it to traverse the continental United States in under 12 minutes. Mayhem is only described as being able to “travel long distances at speeds in excess of Mach 5,” though it will likely be a bit faster as well.

The declared goal of the US government is to develop hypersonic weapons that can strike anywhere in the world within an hour.

Speed ​​aside, Mayhem won’t be much more than a wink in the eyes of a defense contractor for several years — the Department of Defense said it doesn’t expect work on the project to be completed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base until October 2028 will be – if everything goes according to plan. ® US Air Force signs $344 million hypersonic Mayhem aircraft deal • The Register

Rick Schindler

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