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The U.S Air Force Has Set Its Sights On An Air-Breathing Hypersonic Jet

The US Air Force has awarded defense contractor Leidos $334 million to develop the next phase of its hypersonic arsenal: “Mayhem,” an unmanned craft designed for super-fast spying. “This program is focused on delivering a larger air-breathing hypersonic system capable of executing multiple missions with a standardized payload interface, providing a significant technological advancement and future capability,” the Department of Defense said last week.

The United States Air Force has a fleet of supersonic aircraft. As other nations’ militaries catch up, the United States must push the envelope on the next generation of aircraft, capable of flying faster and carrying payloads that others cannot match.

Project Mayhem aims to create a hypersonic air-breathing system with a bigger payload capacity than the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), as well as the capability to conduct both strike and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IRS) missions.

For perspective, the AGM-183A ARRW is a long-range hypersonic missile developed for the US Air Force. The weapon will boost the USAF’s strike capability at standoff ranges, allowing it to attack heavily defended targets. It is expected to be officially deployed by 2023. Even though very little information has been divulged about the program, we do know that it intends to build the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), among other things, for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Leidos will use digital and model-based systems engineering, according to the press release, based on an Air Force strategy that increasingly prioritizes digital engineering in weapons development as a way to speed up development and improve design precision. The company will also lead the model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and programming that will help the Mayhem system transition from an idea to an operational system, the press release said.

Work on the project will begin at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and is expected to be completed by October 2028. 

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