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November 1, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works have finally announced the successor to the famous SR-71 Blackbird. The new spyplane, an unmanned drone called the SR-72, will perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions like its forbearer, but unlike the Blackbird it may also perform a strike role. Using Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjets mated with standard military jet engines, the plane will cruise at hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6, almost doubling the SR-71's top speed of Mach 3.3.
posted by thecjm (66 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite SR-71 story.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:42 PM on November 1, 2013 [64 favorites]


So, it's vaporware? I don't doubt that they're working on something whizbang at Groom Lake or wherever, but this thing as described seems like hype.
posted by planetesimal at 8:44 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The new spyplane, an unmanned drone

:(
posted by mlis at 8:44 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


SR-72. How creative. But hey, at Mach kickass who cares what your name is.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:45 PM on November 1, 2013


I can't wrap my head around how you'd even launch a missile at Mach 6 without everything going horribly wrong.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:45 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like that the engine company's website is "rocket.com".
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:53 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


And from correlating a previous Skunk Works post it must be Fusion Powered!
posted by sammyo at 8:54 PM on November 1, 2013


tylerkaraszewski - That was the best part of putting these links together.

planetesimal - They discuss in the announcing article things like cost feasibility and waiting for the right engine technology to come along which lead me to believe this actually has potential to be made.
posted by thecjm at 8:55 PM on November 1, 2013


It would have to slow down to launch presumably. The goal is to get to target quickly, after that cruise home slower.
posted by stbalbach at 8:56 PM on November 1, 2013


See that's what I thought, but the article says "The SR-72 is being designed with strike capability in mind. “We would envision a role with over-flight ISR, as well as missiles,” Leland says. Being launched from a Mach 6 platform, the weapons would not require a booster, significantly reducing weight." which just sounds totally crazypants to me, like trying to throw a paper airplane out of a car window on the highway.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except also the paper airplane explodes.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


You don't really need to "fire" the missile at Mach 6. Just toss it in the right direction and let it steer itself to the target. And considering how fast this thing goes, you might not even need to be flying over the same country as your target when you do it.
posted by thecjm at 9:01 PM on November 1, 2013


Being launched from a Mach 6 platform, the weapons would not require a booster

Booster, no. Brakes, maybe. Mach 6 is over 4000 miles per hour.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know the general sentiment is usually anti-American hegemony (for good reason). But, just for a second, imagine a giant mass of machinery and network equipment being controlled by a bored technician in Nevada as it rains down hell in Central Asia at Mach Fucking Six.

Pretty awesome, says the sixteen-year-old me.
posted by anewnadir at 9:03 PM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


jason_steakums: "like trying to throw a paper airplane out of a car window on the highway."

More like nonchalantly tossing a beer bottle out the window *at just the right time* to hit a road sign.
posted by notsnot at 9:03 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


At Mach 6, does your missile even need a payload?
posted by thecjm at 9:03 PM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of the Aurora aircraft (using "alien technology!") described by Timothy Good in Above Top Secret and Bob Lazar on the UFO circuit back in the early 90's.

I remember watching NBC news around 1992 or something - there was a report about strange sonic booms rattling Orange County, and I was totally surprised to hear the announcer mention the word "Aurora supersonic spyplane." The clip used to be on YouTube, but not anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:08 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It just seems like any tiny change in the aerodynamic profile of the plane at Mach 6 would cause havoc, if the missile is attached to a hardpoint it essentially changes the shape of the plane when it releases and if it's in some sort of covered bay that's even worse when the cover opens. Maybe it drops out the back? I dunno, I mean, these guys are super good at this kind of thing so I believe them, it just seems intuitively weird because that's really really fast.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:08 PM on November 1, 2013


At Mach 6, does your missile even need a payload?

Depends what you want to achieve. And if it is to hit the target at Mach 6 it needs plenty of thrust to keep its speed in denser parts of the atmosphere.
posted by hat_eater at 9:10 PM on November 1, 2013


I know the general sentiment is usually anti-American hegemony (for good reason). But, just for a second, imagine a giant mass of machinery and network equipment being controlled by a bored technician in Nevada as it rains down hell in Central Asia at Mach Fucking Six.

Personally, my sentiment is anguish at science's suicide pact with imperialism.
posted by gorbweaver at 9:11 PM on November 1, 2013 [32 favorites]


Going this fast within the atmosphere is nuts. Exoatmospheric is the way forward.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:14 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, it's vaporware?

Maybe. Probably. But this is from the black world, so another entirely possible option is that USAF/CIA have had hypersonic recon planes for at least five years.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


So a bit over a mile per second?
posted by edgeways at 9:28 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of a flying version of the Shagohad from Snake Eater.

It says being launched from a Mach 6 "platform", that doesn't necessarily mean that the jet is going Mach 6 when the missile is launched though, does it? At what speed are you safely able to launch (or let go of?) the missile?
posted by gucci mane at 9:33 PM on November 1, 2013


All of this sounds amazing, when you start thinking how hard it is... but don't forget that there are new frontiers for speed underwater as well. Think about 220 mph torpedos, and how that changes the nature of naval warfare.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:35 PM on November 1, 2013


I really want to hate the idea of more drones lobbing bombs at vaguely identified threats but I just can't feel bad about a SR-71 successor. That plane was just so freaking amazing that I will forgive so many sins in its name.

(and I'm with those scratching their heads over how you launch anything at Mach 6, I just can't imagine that)
posted by N-stoff at 9:42 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


They have a plan, not a plane.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:46 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


They have a plan, not a plane.

A man, a plane, a venal Panama?
posted by jason_steakums at 9:51 PM on November 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is just the next iteration of the perpetually mythical Aurora project. Without a real craft, it's pure PR for Lockheed.

There's zero need for a hypersonic spy drone in an era of ubiquitous NSA surveillance and global real time satellite imagery. There's only slight need for hypersonic strike capability where a stealth bomber is already 6 hours away from most potential targets around the globe.

It's vaporware until proven otherwise with an actual plane.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:52 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is pretty awesome. I'm currently traveling on a bus and struggling to keep the teenage military gear enthusiast in me from breaking out into an obnoxious "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" chant, even though I'm Australian.

Also, Aerojet Rocketdyne is a great name.
posted by quosimosaur at 9:56 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


My favorite SR-71 story.

Here's mine!
posted by curious nu at 10:19 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


That is, until now. After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform

For US military budget values of affordable.
posted by Authorized User at 10:43 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Call me old fashioned, but if it can't carry the X-Men, they've got no business calling it "Blackbird".
posted by Optamystic at 10:46 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Countermeasure: resurrect some Sprint missile technology (operational 1975-76) with an AA warhead accelerating to Mach 10 (7,500 mph) within 5 seconds. Here's a launch video.
posted by cenoxo at 10:57 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Somewhere, someone is having a pedantic freakout about squaring an SR-72 in 2013 with the military aircraft designation system. Actually, I kinda wonder if it will have to change its name once in service.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:02 PM on November 1, 2013


Everything looks great, except for the conspicuous lack of an aerial refueling probe. Until drones can accomplish aerial refueling at least as reliably and efficiently as those gas guzzling SR-71s that would have been too heavy to takeoff if ever fueled to capacity on the ground, high speed drones are just short range gas hog technology demonstrations.

Few U.S. military aircraft, except the current generations of slow unmanned drones, can operate with full fuel and ordnance or pay loads on takeoff, by design, and depend on getting the majority of their mission fuel from air tankers, usually several times, on any given mission. Sustained supersonic flight is just fuel intensive, even with ramjets, and high tech vehicle shapes and materials, and the key to unmanned supersonic drone operations is being able to automate aerial refueling.
posted by paulsc at 11:10 PM on November 1, 2013


Also, Aerojet Rocketdyne is a great name.

It's like the 1950s in 2 words.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:37 PM on November 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


"Going this fast within the atmosphere is nuts. Exoatmospheric is the way forward."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:14 AM on November 2

Exoatmospheric may be one way around the refueling issue, but it opens up new problems with identification and mission performance, for a vehicle whose main tasks are likely to be ISR. For one thing, as soon as we'd start throwing up hypersonic vehicles on suborbital trajectories, for overflights of other countries, we'd be inviting their mis-identification as offensive ballistic missiles, and we'd be opening ourselves to situations of probable retaliation for such mis-identifications. If you're going to put up really fast fliers, with big cameras, you definitely don't ever want them misinterpreted as offensive weapons by the folk you're trying to photograph, or their nuclear weapon equipped neighbors or allies.

Moreover, there's just not enough difference in capability between such vehicles, and current generations of steerable, taskable satellites to justify development of such a platform. Fast and low presents some new capabilities, however, if you can ever learn how to do that over long ranges, within the laws of physics, and the demands of logistics.
posted by paulsc at 11:46 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


We do need more advanced weapons.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 11:54 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's all this "finally" stuff? There were at least two different successors already. I know because I have Testors models of both of them.
posted by ckape at 12:23 AM on November 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Have to agree that on its face this looks like Lockheed flirting. Or streetwalking, if you prefer.
posted by dhartung at 1:36 AM on November 2, 2013


Booster, no. Brakes, maybe. Mach 6 is over 4000 miles per hour.

The "brakes" would be the village weddingterrorist camp.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:11 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aerojet story from 2011.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:10 AM on November 2, 2013


Wonderful. More murder porn.
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:15 AM on November 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I thought normal skunkworks practice was to deny the existence of a project until it was impossible to conceal any longer, not put out press releases 5 years before it became operational.
posted by TedW at 5:17 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of top secret stuff is casually being shown off these days... there's now a drone submarine hanging out across the street from the drone stealthship at the Navy base where I drive by to work every morning. Just chillin', out in the open. It looks like something out of a science fiction novel, very sleek. I'm not certain why the DoD doesn't care all of a sudden about outing this stuff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:53 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I assume the DoD's omnipresent flock of missile-equipped flying combat robots that envelop the Earth 24/7 has them pretty nonchalant about this sort of thing.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:55 AM on November 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not certain why the DoD doesn't care all of a sudden about outing this stuff.

If you know that something exists that can spy on you from so great a distance that you can't know where it is, and if you're bad then bad things will happen to you, you'll all be good little boys and girls. But you have to know about it first.

It's just like Santa Claus. Or God.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:52 AM on November 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Slap*Happy: I'm wondering if part of this is the realization that their budget is under threat from Congress. There's a non-trivial portion of the electorate which wants to keep living the Cold War dream and cool gadgets are a great way to get them to oppose budget cuts — that's why the Blue Angels were among the first things shut down.
posted by adamsc at 6:53 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess the US isn't resting on its laurels as "largest military force in history". Interesting to note that there isn't any sort of price tag attached to this, but I'm sure they won't spare any expense!

I'm sure the $5 billion we're saving on food stamps will be really helpful in making a downpayment on these babies...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:21 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sebmojo: "Also, Aerojet Rocketdyne is a great name.

It's like the 1950s in 2 words.
"

They make the best Turbo Encabulators, too.
posted by symbioid at 9:17 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


TedW: "I thought normal skunkworks practice was to deny the existence of a project until it was impossible to conceal any longer, not put out press releases 5 years before it became operational."

Skunkworks 2.0. It's like, totally the new thing.
posted by symbioid at 9:19 AM on November 2, 2013


My biggest issue is that I'm very much left-wing, in particular, I do like to avoid war as much as possible, and most assuredly giant imperial wars that entail nation states with a glut of armaments that serve the wealthy elite instead of the poor.

When I was a child, I go sucked into these little matchbox like planes/jets... Replicas of the Grumman X-29, SR-71, Tomcat, Eagle, Harrier Jumpjet, A-10 Warthog, etc... I was fascinated by them. I remember a kid who wanted to go into the Air Force. In 8th grade we both wrote little fiction pieces with aerial combat. Mine was a cheesy "It was all a video game" reveal at the end. His was this really realistic (well, it seemed at the time, probably just a ripoff of Top Gun or something like that, I bet -- I never saw Top Gun, admittedly), and I felt like I wasn't worthy of planes after that.

I still love them for the aesthetics and what they can do. This SR-72 is a beautiful piece of kit, I think. The Blackbird was my favorite plane growing up. I'm enamored of the new Chinese 5th Generation fight (Chengdu J-20)...

But damn if it doesn't make me hate myself for being in awe of this stuff, while knowing it fucks over the rest of society and its needs.
posted by symbioid at 9:39 AM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


My biggest issue is that I'm very much left-wing, in particular, I do like to avoid war as much as possible

Except for almost-totally-defensive interceptors like the Spitfire or Lightning or maybe MiG-25, a recon bird is about as Least Evil a "combat" military plane as you'll find.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:30 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wonderful. More murder porn.

While this may optionally be used for strikes, it's mostly for reconnaissance work, not for violence. Unless you're alluding that this appearing in a future installment of Modern Warfare: Black Ops.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:35 AM on November 2, 2013


Somewhere, someone is having a pedantic freakout about squaring an SR-72 in 2013 with the military aircraft designation system.

"SR-71" was already wrong in three ways, being out of sequence for reconnaissance, having a backwards model designation (thanks LeMay), and being a post '62 aircraft.

Actually, I kinda wonder if it will have to change its name once in service.

After the F-35 / KC-767A, naming's driven by marketing anyway.
posted by theclaw at 11:09 AM on November 2, 2013


I'm not certain why the DoD doesn't care all of a sudden about outing this stuff.

I think we are at the point where nobody is really competing with us on this stuff and there is no credible opponent for any of it anyway. What's gonna happen if people see it, Russia is gonna spend $800 billion to develop new high tech anti-submarinedrone technology?
posted by Drinky Die at 11:48 AM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


(And if they do...well then we need to build an even better submarinedrone.)
posted by Drinky Die at 12:05 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


While this may optionally be used for strikes, it's mostly for reconnaissance work, not for violence.

What's the reconnaissance used for?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:24 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The inherent coolness of this is tinged by sadness that it's a drone, because frankly one of the coolest things about the Blackbird was the knowledge that some lucky son of a bitch got to fly it. I don't think that Skynet will take over so much as we'll end up just handing the keys over and saying, "Eh, you've already got all the cool toys anyway."
'
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:15 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


planetesimal: So, it's vaporware? I don't doubt that they're working on something whizbang at Groom Lake or wherever, but this thing as described seems like hype.
Skunkworks claim != vaporware.

May be, but... these are the people who brought the entire faceted radar-invisibility aircraft design to fruition. They can deliver.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:44 PM on November 2, 2013


hat_eater: At Mach 6, does your missile even need a payload?

Depends what you want to achieve. And if it is to hit the target at Mach 6 it needs plenty of thrust to keep its speed in denser parts of the atmosphere.
Doesn't need to hit the target at Mach 6 - this isn't an air-to-air fighter, so its targets will be doing Mach 0.00.

It needs speed on the approach, but even Mach 2 is going to bring the smart payload in faster than almost anything on earth can respond.

"Even Mach 2", he said, as if that phrase made sense in this world.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:00 PM on November 2, 2013


edgeways: So a bit over a mile per second?
Yes.
gucci mane:
It says being launched from a Mach 6 "platform", that doesn't necessarily mean that the jet is going Mach 6 when the missile is launched though, does it? At what speed are you safely able to launch (or let go of?) the missile?
That's precisely what it means. The "platform" is the SR-73, which will be travelling at ~4,000 miles per hour in the very, very sparse atmosphere up where the sky is always black.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:03 PM on November 2, 2013


T.D. Strange:
There's zero need for a hypersonic spy drone in an era of ubiquitous NSA surveillance and global real time satellite imagery. There's only slight need for hypersonic strike capability where a stealth bomber is already 6 hours away from most potential targets around the globe.
If I didn't live in a country that was building bigger and badder tanks, your very reasonable arguments would hold sway. As it is, ... you bet your half-a-trillion-dollar military budget this four-star hard-on has funding.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:07 PM on November 2, 2013


you bet your half-a-trillion-dollar military budget this four-star hard-on has funding.

But enough about Keith Alexander...
posted by Sys Rq at 5:49 AM on November 3, 2013


Doesn't need to hit the target at Mach 6

If it does have a payload. I was responding to a question about a kinetic missile.
posted by hat_eater at 5:56 AM on November 3, 2013


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