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Lockheed’s SR-72 Could Fill Crucial Pentagon Need

Artist's conception of the SR-72 so-called Son of Blackbird concept from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Lockheed Martin Photo

Artist’s conception of the SR-72 so-called Son of Blackbird concept from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Lockheed Martin Photo

Could Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ SR-72 hypersonic concept design fill the Pentagon’s need for a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft? The answer could be yes.

Lockheed revealed the Mach 6 capable concept design to trade-publication Aviation Week on Friday.

However images of the aircraft were seen on Flightglobal’s DEW Line blog in July, when the company released a video celebrating the Skunk Works’ achievements over the past several decades.
As impressive as the SR-72 concept is, one of the questions that immediately arise is: Does the Department of Defense have a requirement for this kind of aircraft?

There too, the answer could be yes.

Earlier this year in July, U.S. Strategic Command chief Gen. Robert Kehler told reporters that the US military needs a penetrating ISR asset.

“I am personally of the belief that we will need some kind of penetrating air ISR,” Kehler had told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. “What that looks like, and how much of it and the nature of it, remains to be seen.”

The SR-72, which is really many ways a rehash of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Blackswift demonstrator program, could potentially fit the bill.

If the SR-72, which is envisioned to cruise at speeds above Mach 6, could eventually be developed into an operational aircraft, it would be able to overfly areas that are all but off-limits to even a supersonic stealth aircraft.

According to Aviation Week, “the SR-72 is designed to fill what are perceived by defense planners as growing gaps in coverage of fast-reaction intelligence by the plethora of satellites, subsonic manned and unmanned platforms meant to replace the SR-71.”

That means that should the Pentagon—in this case the U.S. Air Force—somehow manage to find the money to pay for the SR-72, Kehler could have his penetrating ISR platform.

That platform could then be used to gather ISR data from deep inside hostile territory with all but impunity while relaying that data back to the analysts back at a Distributed Common Ground System station. It could also hit heavily defended targets before they have any chance to react. If the concept works, it could play an integral role in the Defense Department’s Air Sea Battle concept.

But before any of that, the SR-72 has a long way to go both technologically and in securing the some of the Pentagon’s dwindling supply of cash.

  • dougloss


  • Ted the Detonator

    In the early 1960’s I was a Jr. engineer at a western aerospace company. We had design program in our skunk works to develop a hydrogen fueled supersonic combustion ramjet engine for a vehicles for boost to orbit or 10,000 mile mach 5 cruise.The vehicle concepts looked pretty much like the SR-72 so I guess the principles of supersonic aerodynamics have not changed much.

    I designed a sounding rocket boosted proof of concept that would self ignite combustion at Mach 7 and 70,000 feet and burn for 7 seconds. The early astronaut program had all the good “7” names so I named ours Seagram 7. About 40 years later the Australian Hypersonics Initiative had a go with the same technique.

    We also built and ran a Mach 3 combustion wind tunnel which burned a hydrogen-oxygen mixture ahead of the normal shock wave to simulate inlet air temperature at flight speeds. The tests with both normal and oblique detonation waves proved that supersonic combustion was possible in a very short distance.

    But then the space program took off. Funding for air breathing propulsion research of this type dried up for decades. We converted our cryogenic test facility to support the Saturn 5. I spent a year of my engineer career on blowing up high pressure spherical helium tanks while immersed in liquid hydrogen. What fun.

    Cheers Ted the Detonator

  • Secundius

    My thinking exactly, Now, Aurora has a designation code. SR-72 Aurora