In 2013, Lockheed Martin first announced the development of the promising SR-72 aircraft, capable of reaching hypersonic speeds.
The first official information about the SR-72 project was first published by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine in November 2013. Soon after, the Pentagon showed great interest in the development of hypersonic weapons. Models of this class will give the US Air Force an edge over future enemies.
At the end of 2014, a new agreement between Lockheed Martin and NASA conducted research on the hypersonic propulsion system. In early 2016, Lockheed-Martin announced a technological breakthrough, allowing the development of hypersonic weapons. Some exciting news arrived in early 2018. Lockheed Martin officially announced some new technologies that will ensure the creation of an SR-72 aircraft. The prototype will be built and have its first flight in 2025. It will become a leading fighter, carrying hypersonic missile weapons.
The official concept drawings of the SR-72 show that it is a specially designed aircraft, with underslung twin air intakes, slim low-mounted delta-type wing assemblies and a single vertical tail fin. It is not clear whether the SR-72 has a cockpit or not. This could also be a type of heavy hypersonic UAV, and thusly does not feature a cockpit but instead a solid fuselage containing avionics, mission systems and fuel stores.
According to Lockheed Martin, the new aircraft can reach speeds of at least Mach 5 or 6. This places special requirements on the design and materials of the airframe. According to various estimates, such an aircraft would have a heat-resistant alloy and composite construction. Its flight characteristics and inherent power will allow the vehicle to transition into near-space altitudes as the SR-71 before it, up to 85,000 feet. A retractable undercarriage will allow the SR-72 to land and be recovered as a traditional aircraft.
Immediately after the launch of the SR-72 project, representatives of the US Air Force spoke about their interest in the topic of hypersonic weapons. High-performance fighters can be useful for air combat. However, it remains unclear at what mission the new development of the Lockheed-Martin might be effective.
Obviously, the US Air Force will not order supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. Image reconnaissance tasks have long been assigned to satellites and UAVs. Therefore, the proposal of a supersonic aircraft, carrying hypersonic missiles will seem more reasonable. Such an attack complex will be able to solve particularly complex tasks and will increase the capacity of long-range attacks. First of all, it will greatly reduce the time to attack the specified target. In addition, it also increases the ability to successfully break through the enemy’s air defense and missile defense systems.
To date, Lockheed Martin and related organizations have carried out complex research and development works, and have enough experience and technology to fully develop the SR-72 in the future. However, the real prospects of the SR-72 project remains in question. Potential customers only talk about interest, but will not be in a hurry to sign a contract and place an order in the near future.