The US Department of Defense has awarded follow-on contracts to three US companies as part of the development of the joint US-Australian Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) hypersonic research program.
SCIFiRE was launched last November to develop a Mach 5+ air-launched cruise and anti-ship missile. The program draws on 15 years of research on hypersonics by Australian defence scientists, universities, and industry, including actual launches and flight trials conducted under the previous Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program.
The latest contracts – valued at between US$27.1m and US$39.7m (A$36.4m-A$53.6m) – were awarded to Raytheon Missiles and Defense, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin to continue research for the SCIFiRE program’s Phase I preliminary design review (PDR). These contracts are follow-ons to those awarded in June 2021 valued at between US$33.5m and US$47.2m (A$45m-A$63.4m), which saw the program achieve a Systems Requirements Review milestone. It is unclear how much, if any of this funding is Australian money.
The latest contract announcements state the “modification is an option exercise to mature a solid-rocket boosted, air-breathing, hypersonic conventional cruise missile, air-launched from existing fighter/bomber aircraft, through the completion of a preliminary design review.” Work on the three contracts is expected to be completed between 31 August and 2 September 2022.
The RAAF website states, “The new weapon will be a Mach 5-class precision strike missile that is propulsion-launched and powered by an air-breathing scramjet engine. It will be capable of being carried by tactical fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-35A Lightning II, as well as the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.”
In a November 2020 release, US Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Michael Kratsios said, “SCIFiRE is a true testament to the enduring friendship and strong partnership between the United States and Australia. This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability.”
Also in November, RAAF Chief AIRMSHL Mel Hupfeld told media that, “The SCIFiRE initiative is another opportunity to advance the capabilities in our Air Combat Capability Program to support joint force effects to advance Australia’s security and prosperity. Working with our Defence scientists here in Australia and our partners in the US Air Force and across the US Department of Defense on leading edge capabilities brings out the best in our Air Force team.”
SCIFiRE reportedly plans to conduct between two and four flight tests at the vast Woomera Test Range in South Australia, although the timing of these tests is uncertain.