Jack O’Banion, Vice President of Strategy and Customer Requirements, Advanced Development Programs for Lockheed Martin may have just unintentionally revealed that America’s next hypersonic warplane is much farther along the development process than previously suggested.
Speaking at The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum, Jack O’Banion was talking about how his company has adapted to digital disruption when he brought up the so-called SR-72, which so far is only known as a conceptual hypersonic aircraft.
A closer examination of how O’Banion refers to the SR-72 may reveal that the aircraft is no long just a concept, as pointed out by aviation reporter Stephen Trimble in a series of tweets:
O’Banion defines the SR-72 as a hypersonic aircraft capable of speeds greater than Mach 5, which has been claimed since the concept was first revealed. What’s new here, however, is in what follows (emphasis added):
Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made. In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made.
Here’s the livestream of the SciTech forum, where O’Banion comments on the SR-72 starting at around 59 minutes in:
Jalopnik reached out to Lockheed Martin to comment on the quote and the possibility of the SR-72 moving beyond the conceptual stage. Here is Lockheed Martin’s statement:
Lockheed Martin continues to advance and test technologies which will benefit hypersonic flight. A Reusable Hypersonic System (RHS) is a far term solution that will be made possible by the path-finding work we are doing today.
Another important aspect of the SR-72 is its ability to carry weapons, which the famous SR-71 never did. It was used for espionage and intelligence gathering, instead. The SR-72 is essentially a hypersonic precision bomber with the objective of striking an adversary before they have time to counteract the attack, along with possible espionage capability.
The purpose of O’Banion’s presentation of the SR-72 and its scramjet engine was to explain the critical role of digital advancements in designing and testing the aircraft and its engine in digital 3D models. He claims the digital transformation in recent years allowed the design to be robust with no moving parts, and to be extremely agile at hypersonic speeds.
Back in June, The War Zone reported that it was likely that the SR-72 was further along in development than initially presumed, and now it seems all but confirmed to be well clear of the conceptual and modeling phases of development, and possibly operational. The entire presentation seems to heavily suggest that Lockheed Martin either has completed an operational aircraft, or is incredibly close to achieving an operational aircraft.
Whether or not Lockheed Martin has completed a proof-of-concept yet, there may be no need for such an aircraft at all. We’ve previously outlined the potential faults for the SR-72, including the capability of satellites for espionage and hypersonic missiles fired from submarines, among other options that deter the need for a hypersonic aircraft.
The SR-72 may be the purest reflection yet of the Pentagon’s obsession with high cost projects that are focused on an increasingly tightening technological timeframe and a strategically obscure operational benefit, but perhaps military leadership just can’t resist the SR-72 if they can make it go fast enough. It’s been previously pegged to be “affordable,” coming in under $1 billion. It doesn’t matter if we don’t need it as long as it can be had for a deal, right?