The U.S Air Force has tested an air-breathing
hypersonic engine whose thrust production
beat all the previous engines of this type.
The Air Force Research Laboratory ( AFRL)
announced this on on Aug 5, 2019, but did
not disclose when the test was carried out.
The scramjet engine is developed by Northrop
Grumman for AFRL.
Pat Nolan, Northrop Grumman’s Vice President
for Missile Products said in a statement.
“The series of tests on this fighter-engine
sized scramjet was truly remarkable.
The scramjet successfully ran across a range
of hypersonic Mach numbers for unprecedented
run times, demonstrating that our technology
is leading the way in delivering large scale
hypersonic platforms to our warfighters.”
This is an important development since the
U.S military is actively pursuing hypersonic
technology and is virtually in a race with
Russia & China in this sector.
In this video Defense Updates reports on the
successful test of highest thrust producing
hypersonic scramjet engine by the U.S.
Let’s get started.
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An object is said to be hypersonic once they
exceed speeds of Mach 5 that is 5 times the
speed of sound.
This is about 1,715 meters per second or 3,836
mph or 6,174 km/h.
There are currently two methods being applied
to make hypersonic weapons.
First is using Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV).
In this method, the system is launched to
extremely high altitudes using Ballistic Missile
or an aircraft where it skips across the Earth’s
The vehicle then separates from the carrier
and the scramjet engine takes over, accelerating
it to hypersonic speeds as it glides back
to the earth towards its intended target.
Second is using a Scramjet engine.
The scramjet is an innovation on the Ramjet.
Ramjet engine can power flight to supersonic
speeds but scramjet can enable the missiles
to reach hypersonic speeds.
These engines have no moving parts, like the
compressors and turbines used in the turbofan
engines found on conventional jet planes.
They rely on the huge pressures created by
fast airflow into the engine to ignite the
fuel and generate thrust.
In this method, a rocket booster is used to
accelerate the missile to hypersonic speed,
then the scramjet engine kicks in and enable
the missile to fly at sustained hypersonic speed.
The latest test is using scramjet methodology.
As per reports, Air Force Research Laboratory
and Northrop Grumman have tested an 18-foot
long fighter-engine sized scramjet engine.
The test has been carried out for 9 months
and was conducted at the Arnold Engineering
Development Complex’s (AEDC) Aerodynamic and
Propulsion Test Unit at Arnold Air Force Base
The engine ran for a total of 30 minutes across
an unspecified number of tests and was able
to generate up to 13,000 pounds of thrust
under conditions in which it will experience
speeds of above 4 Mach.
It is important to note that the Air Force’s
statement described the engine running at
‘conditions above Mach 4’, though as explained
earlier – speed is considered hypersonic when
it is 5 Mach and above.
So, we can assume that during the whole tenure
of testing, some tests were carried out to
replicate conditions of 5 Mach and above.
Viewers may note that the 18-foot hypersonic
engine is similar in size to fighter jet engines
and 13,000 pounds of thrust is much less compared
to traditional once.
For example, 16 ft 11 inch Pratt & Whitney
F119 engine used in F 22 Raptor produces 35,000
pounds of thrust.
So on paper, the test seems to be nothing
But the fact is that the scramjet engine is
designed to generate the thrust in extremely
high altitude where the air is much thinner
and the conditions are extremely harsh.
The engine, if used in conditions similar
to cruise altitude of a typical fighter jet
will exceed the performance of current crop
of jet engines.
To give the viewer a perspective, so that
the real stature of the achievement can be
gauged, we can compare it with the Boeing’s
X-51A Waverider hypersonic test.
SJY61 engine which powered the Waverider and
was being tested by AFRL between 2005 and
2013, produced a maximum of 1,000 pounds of
Countries like Russia, China, and the U.S
have been developing sophisticated layered
These systems are difficult for traditional
aircraft & missiles to penetrate.
For example, Russia has deployed S 400 air
S 400 Triumph is an anti-aircraft weapon system
developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design
Bureau in the 1990s as an upgrade of the S
it has been in service with the Russian armed
forces since 2007.
It is designed to defend against aircraft
including 5th generation stealth fighters,
bombers, AWACS, cruise missiles, and even
S 400 can track hundreds of target at a time,
engage up to 36 targets in parallel and simultaneously
launch 72 missiles.
Russia is also working on S 500 which will
be even more potent.
U.S fields several systems that are designed
to intercept ballistic as well as cruise missiles
like THAAD or Terminal High Altitude Area
Defense which is designed to shoot down short,
medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles
in their terminal phase.
US Navy also has a large number of Ticonderoga
class and Arleigh burke class warships which
have the Aegis combat system
Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense which is part
of the Aegis combat system is devised to intercept
ballistic missiles post-boost phase and before reentry.
It uses Standard Missile like SM3, SM6 to
shoot down incoming threats.
On the surface, missile defense looks like
a defensive weaponry but it can disturb the
Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine
of military strategy and national security
policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear
weapons by two or more opposing sides would
cause the complete annihilation of both the
attacker and the defender.
It is based on the theory of deterrence, which
holds that the threat of using strong weapons
against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use
of those same weapons.
This balance will be disturbed if any country
is able to field a fully functional missile
defense system that can defend against the
This is where hypersonic weapons come in.
Their extreme speed and ability to fly in
unpredictable path give them a high probability
of penetrating the air defenses.
They will be very hard to track, let alone
It is to be noted that traditional ballistic
missiles also reach hypersonic speed when
then descend on the target but they follow
a predictable predefined parabolic path which
could lead to possible interception by anti-ballistic
missile defense systems.
The characteristic of Hypersonic weapons makes
it suitable for neutralizing well-defended
strategic military assets.
These weapons may also have used in neutralizing
incoming enemy missiles, where they will be
used as interceptors.
Russia is leading the hypersonic weapons space
It has claimed that it has already fielded
a Scramjet engine based hypersonic missile
named Kinzhal and is very close to having
an operational hypersonic boost-glide vehicle
The Kinzhal or Dagger was one of the weapons
the Russian president Vladimir Putin unveiled
in his ‘state of the nation’ address last
Kinzhal reportedly has a range of approximately
1,250 miles or 2000 km and a top speed Mach
10, that is more than 10 times the speed of
According to the Russian president, units
in the country’s Southern Military District,
which borders Ukraine and the Black Sea, have
deployed the missiles operationally.
China is thought to be pursuing hypersonic
weapons as well and has made some progress
with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) approach.
The United States is working on both the approaches
for developing its hypersonic weapons and
may have different working prototypes by 2021.
It is evident that hypersonic weapons will
be one area that will see a lot of work in
coming days and the nation that will be able
to operational deploy hypersonic weapons on
different platforms will have an edge in future