Many people believe that the enigmatic SR-91 spy plane exists, and if it does, the Mach 6 hypersonic reconnaissance plane would surely usher in new strategies and methods of operation.
When it comes to weapons and missiles, hypersonic speeds have previously been accomplished with substantial dependability. However, what about a networked reconnaissance aircraft with an advanced payload that can broadcast video and important real-time data through a force?
Some might think if such an aircraft could double as an unmanned stealth bomber platform, should Pentagon weapons developers so require.
This makes sense, as hypersonic projectiles are difficult for opponent air defenses to detect and intercept, opening up new possibilities for high-velocity, high-altitude surprise stealth assaults and providing tactical advantages.
Since hypersonic weapons travel so swiftly, they are notoriously difficult to track as they frequently escape the radar’s range of view. A hypersonic bomber would exponentially increase the chances of successful stealth bombing missions, if only because of its speed.
Development has progressed explosively, though it has also run into some of the many challenges accompanying hypersonic flight.
Unmanned and stealthy
The technology for an unmanned stealth bomber could already be here. The B-21 Raider is scheduled to take to the skies later this year, and it’s a platform many have speculated about for years. The B-21 is likely to control small groups of drones from the cockpit and is designed to fly unmanned missions.
This obviously reduces risk, allowing the stealthy drone bomber to attack extremely dangerous targets without endangering the pilots. In the event that a hypersonic projectile has already managed to generate sustained hypersonic speeds, something that both the Navy and the Air Force have achieved, an armed hypersonic stealth bombing and reconnaissance aircraft could create unprecedented problems for an adversary.
Is there such a plane?
If such a platform did exist, it could sneak past enemy air defenses, do rapid reconnaissance, and, under human control, potentially even bomb specific enemy targets identified by its sensors. Using this synergy, the kill chain’s duration might be drastically reduced.
Should such a platform exist or be introduced soon, it would have to successfully connect with other nodes via a “mesh” network of combat nodes.
If successfully connected, such a platform could inform manned aircraft, such as bombers and fighters, of emerging targets from forward high-risk areas in real time.
The question is then one of role mix because if the hypersonic flight of a drone was possible, why couldn’t it also be stealthy and armed with air-dropped bombs for strike missions?